Surging out of April slump, Bell slugs dramatic HR

May 19th, 2024

MIAMI -- “Boring baseball.” It’s not sexy, but that’s how Marlins manager Skip Schumaker describes the winning formula for his ballclub not built to outslug its opponent. Miami relies on clean defense and strong pitching to gain the upper hand.

And then Saturday’s 10-9 walk-off victory in 10 innings over the Mets at loanDepot park happened. Miami’s fourth walk-off win of the season also extended the club’s season-best win streak to four.

“I still believe that, honestly,” Schumaker said postgame with a smile. “What a day to say that, though.”

Down by four runs, the Marlins stared down a 2 percent win probability entering the bottom of the ninth with one of the game’s best closers on the mound.

Edwin Díaz has been off his game of late: he had blown saves in his previous two appearances, and all three of his blown saves have come since May 5. In his return to the site of the World Baseball Classic, where he sustained a fluke knee injury that kept him out for the 2023 season, he permitted a leadoff double to Vidal Bruján and an RBI single to Jazz Chisholm Jr.

Following Bryan De La Cruz’s single, Josh Bell went against what he and teammate Jake Burger had talked about in the past: Díaz might be the type of pitcher to wait out and see whether he walks you before giving you something to hit.

Instead, Bell ambushed Díaz’s first-pitch slider over the heart of the plate and sent it to straightaway center for the game-tying three-run shot. What Bell called one of the Top 5 homers of his nine-year career ignited the dugout and crowd in equal fervor.

“It was nuts,” said Bell, who entered the matchup hitless in seven plate appearances against Díaz. “Obviously, the fifth, sixth inning rolls around [and] you're hearing the ‘Let's go Mets’ chants. I know their fans travel well, but it was nice to hear our fans cheer that whole inning. I kind of blacked out there for a little bit, but I felt like it was the moment to do so. I can't take that back.”

The 31-year-old Bell needed a moment like this. After joining the Marlins at the 2023 Trade Deadline, Bell and Burger carried the club to a surprising postseason berth. Bell exercised his $16.5 million player option for ‘24 over the winter, as Miami hoped to run it back.

Like the Marlins, who entered Saturday with the Majors’ worst record, Bell scuffled out of the gate. He compiled a .181/.269/.285 slash line with six extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in 31 games over the first month of the season. Since the start of May, Bell is batting .322/.403/.525 with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 16 games. Getting off to a slow start isn’t new to Bell, who also struggled during his time with the Guardians in 2023. With that experience, he decided this time around to trust the process and believe things would even out.

“I didn't think he was going to hit .160 or .170 forever,” Schumaker said. “He's just too good of a player, and [he’s] a switch-hitter, [so] he's going to be playing every day. It wasn't like I was going to take him out of games, because he's good on both sides of the plate. It was just a matter of time, and we needed him to get going because [in] the middle of the order, there's guys on base in front of him.

“And he felt it. He took it personally. He wasn't happy about it. He was staying after games. He was coming really early before everybody was showing up. The guy puts in work, and he doesn't take a day off ground balls, either. When your best players are going out there early and doing the work, everyone follows. And so Josh is a big deal in that clubhouse, and obviously a big deal for me as a young manager to lean on with different things -- not just baseball-related. I felt like he was going to catch fire here pretty soon, and what a big hit tonight.”

But the big hits didn’t stop there.

After Marlins closer Tanner Scott held the Mets scoreless in the 10th, Otto Lopez produced the walk-off single up the middle against former Marlin Jorge López with the infield drawn in. It was the first walk-off hit of Lopez’s professional career.

Since Miami dealt Luis Arraez to San Diego, Lopez has taken advantage of consistent playing time. He is batting .290 with five runs, three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs in 11 games.

“It was everything when he just hit the ball and we just all got crazy after that home run,” Lopez said of Bell’s big blast. “And we’ve just got to stay positive and say, ‘We've got this game’ and just stay positive and go with it.”