Smash Burger: Slugger crushes walk-off HR vs. former club

July 7th, 2024

MIAMI -- It had been a rough couple of days for against his former team.

When he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth Sunday afternoon, Burger had gone 1-for-10 against the Chicago White Sox with a pair of walks.

One swing, and all of that was history.

Burger feasted on a 99 mph fastball from old friend Michael Kopech and knocked it off the walkway beyond the center-field wall, lifting the Marlins to a 7-4 win over the White Sox on Sunday at loanDepot park, securing the series win over Chicago.

Miami, which trailed 4-1 in the sixth and 4-3 going into the ninth, took two of three against Burger’s former team.

The Marlins acquired the third baseman from the White Sox at least year's Trade Deadline as part of a trio of deals that helped Miami reach the postseason for the first time in a full season since 2003.

“I got into the box and thought it was a little storybook with my history with the Sox,” said Burger, who was 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts Sunday before coming up in a tie game with two outs and two on.

“I was fortunate to get a pitch I could do something with. [Kopech] is an awesome pitcher, and an awesome person. He has a fastball that can blow by you. You have to honor that. … It’s a cool moment, but that’s a good friend.’’

Said manager Skip Schumaker: “Pretty special, he was pretty frustrated throughout that game with his previous at-bats. Maybe he was trying a little too hard against his former team, not really sure. That’s human nature, that’s going to happen. Glad he got the opportunity to walk them off.’’

The Marlins trailed by one run entering the ninth. Then Vidal Bruján started things with a leadoff walk. He went to third when no one was covering the bag on a Nick Fortes sacrifice bunt down the first-base line.

With two outs, Josh Bell doubled off the left-field wall, past the outstretched arm of Tommy Pham to tie the score.

Bell, like Burger, had been struggling lately. When he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning, he was 0-for-23 dating back to June 30.

That all changed.

“They’re best buddies in that clubhouse,’’ Schumaker said, ‘’and they have been grinding through this together. They’re such pros and both felt they were one swing away from getting back to where they should be.’’

Bell’s double off the wall came inches from clearing and would have ended the game right there.

“It felt great,” Bell said. “That’s why you play the game. I was in a bit of a rut there, but to feel that ball connect with my bat, it felt great.’’

With Bell at second, Chicago manager Pedro Grifol intentionally walked Jesús Sánchez -- bringing up the struggling Burger.

Burger waited for his pitch, swinging at the first offering he saw before taking a fastball down for a 1-1 count. Then, the pitch he wanted: A 99 mph four-seam fastball that Burger demolished. The ball got out of the park in a hurry, leaving his bat at 110.3 mph, per Statcast, and soaring 431 feet.

“In that scenario, you’re like, ‘Those last four at-bats don’t mean anything,’’’ Burger said. “Obviously you don’t expect to hit a home run.

"I obviously have nothing but respect for Pedro and the guys over there, but it does make it more special with the storybook mentality there. Anytime you get a walk-off home run, you remember that.’’

Kopech said he had not seen the replay of the home run by the time he spoke after the game.

“I don’t really want to look at it, to tell you the truth,’’ Kopech said. “It’s something I’ll assess tomorrow. He’s a great hitter. We saw him over here for years. I’m excited for him, but it’s hard to be [excited] in the moment right now.”

Before the game, the Marlins had activated Edward Cabrera off the 60-day IL. The right-hander made his first start since May 7, pitching three scoreless innings to kick things off, including a three-up, three-down first inning, before he took the mound in the fourth.

With Miami warming up Anthony Bender in the bullpen due to Cabrera being on a pitch count, Cabrera threw the final of his 82 pitches to Danny Mendick, who hit it over the wall in left and gave the White Sox a 2-0 lead.

“He only had 75-80 pitches to work with,” Schumaker said. “I was one hitter too late, with Mendick hitting a home run.’’

In the fourth, Bruján got the Marlins within a run with a two-out double into the right-field corner, scoring Dane Myers from second. But Chicago scored twice in the sixth to make it 4-1.

Miami battled back in the seventh when Bruján led off with a walk before racing around the bases on a double into the left-field corner from Fortes, who then scored from third on a grounder from Bell to bring the Marlins within a run.

Miami’s bullpen held Chicago scoreless the rest of the way, allowing for some heroics from both Bell and Burger.

The Marlins enjoyed this win as they hastily packed up for a flight to Houston, where they will start a three-game series against the Astros on Tuesday.

“It’ll be a happy flight for us, for sure,” Burger said.