'A lot cleaner': Marlins focused in comeback

Miami's three-run eighth inning helps snap seven-game losing streak

September 30th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Hours before the Marlins snapped their seven-game skid with a 3-2 victory over the Mets on Wednesday night at Citi Field, manager Don Mattingly wanted to see who was going to push through the final games of the season.

Though Mattingly said his players were putting forward their best effort, the Marlins hadn’t been doing the little things -- from fielding to staying focused. As the young players gain more experience and audition for roles in 2022 and beyond, the organization can discover a lot about a guy. Who can maintain their focus day in and day out? They tend to be more consistent and trustworthy, according to Mattingly. At this stage of the season, it becomes even more of a mental game, one that separates those with the same athletic ability.

And yet it was veteran coming through with a go-ahead two-run single in the eighth inning that helped Miami avoid dropping eight in a row for the third time this season.

Rojas, the club’s unofficial captain and longest-tenured player, reiterated what Mattingly had to say while delving even further. Half of the active roster consists of rookies who haven’t gone this deep into the calendar year because the Minor League schedule ends sooner. That doesn’t include the variable of returning to the 162-game slate.

“You have to remember that these guys need to continue to learn how to play the game and these meaningful games late in September,” Rojas said. “It's really hard to win games in September. And for me, it's like everybody has to just mentally think about the little stuff. Physical mistakes are going to happen, but the mental mistakes and the mental part of the game has to be crisp every single day until the last day of the season.

“That's the most important part about these last couple days. You've seen a couple guys pressing because they want to finish with good numbers. They want to get their hits, and they want to do this and they want to do that. But at the end of the day, you've got to understand that you have to stay crisp mentally and continuously see the game as a whole thing instead of a personal achievement. That's my biggest thing that I can say to the guys, because we have to be mentally focused until the final day of the season.”

The Marlins flipped the script for the most part, though it looked like more of the same early on. Following a leadoff walk in the fourth, Taijuan Walker nabbed Jazz Chisholm Jr. for Miami’s MLB-leading 23rd pickoff. That is the highest mark since the 2013 Astros had 27. However, Miami didn’t commit an error, marking just the fifth time since the skid began on Sept. 21. During that stretch, the club recorded an MLB-high nine miscues.

went five innings of two-run ball in his final start of a disappointing 2021. The 26-year-old spent time on the 60-day injured list twice after a breakout ‘20 campaign cut short by a right lat strain. Four relievers followed, including Dylan Floro for his 13th save of the season. Entering Wednesday, Marlins pitching during the skid had the sixth-highest ERA (5.11) but the sixth-best WAR (1.2). The batters had the worst WAR (-0.3) and just 1.75 runs per game.

“A lot cleaner game obviously,” Mattingly said. “It's just a lot better brand of baseball. Just a well-played game for the most part.”

The bullpen’s performance bided time for the rookie-laden lineup to chase Walker during the three-run eighth inning. Lewin Díaz opened with a double and Eddy Alvarez walked with one out. Alex Jackson followed with an RBI double, but pinch-hitter Nick Fortes struck out swinging vs. Seth Lugo. Rojas bailed out his rookie teammate with a first-pitch single to right.

“It's a long year, and for guys who are coming off of the shortened season last year, they might not be used to playing 162,” said Jackson, who had just nine combined MLB games from 2019-20. “That's where you’ve really got to dig deep, and you learn about yourself and you learn how to stick to your routine ... This way the body and everything's functioning properly this deep into the year. This team, everyone's a grinder and guys are playing hard. Guys are just striving to win and it shows. We never give up, and it's awesome and it's great to be a part of.”