DENVER -- The celebration on Sunday afternoon was for Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki becoming the 30th player in Major League history to collect 3,000 hits.But despite all the international attention the hit attracted, for Ichiro and the rest of the Marlins, it was just another stop in a journey that
DENVER -- The celebration on Sunday afternoon was for Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki becoming the 30th player in Major League history to collect 3,000 hits.
But despite all the international attention the hit attracted, for Ichiro and the rest of the Marlins, it was just another stop in a journey that began last February in Jupiter, Fla., with new manager Don Mattingly making his introductory speech, a journey that Miami is beginning to think could end with an invite to MLB's postseason party come October.
With a 10-7 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field on Sunday, punctuated by Ichiro's milestone triple in the seventh, the Marlins rebounded from being swept by the Cubs at Wrigley Field last week to take two out of three from a Rockies team that had boasted baseball's best record since the All-Star break and regain a one-game edge on the Cardinals in the battle for the second National League Wild Card spot.
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Big deal? Real big for Miami.
This is a team that has had six consecutive losing seasons. The Marlins lost 90 or more games four times, including 91 last season and 100 in 2013, and they share, with the Mariners, the distinction of being the only teams to have not been a part of the postseason since 2003.
Things, however, are different this season for a Miami team on which third baseman Martín Prado, 32, is the only regular older than 28. The Marlins have now won 59 games, more than they won in two of the first 23 years of their existence. They are above .500 111 games into a season for the eighth time, the 59 victories equaling the fourth-best total at this point of a season in franchise history.
"We realize we have talent," said starting pitcher Tom Koehler. "You also have to credit the process with [Mattingly]. We come to the ballpark every day expecting to win. When we don't, he's upset, and we have fed off that. There's no more accepting losing.
"We feel good enough about ourselves that we expect to win. Sometimes you play not to win but rather not to lose. We are playing to win."
Miami is winning. It has the fifth-best record in the NL. The Marlins are one of five NL teams with a winning record (30-28) on the road. They have dominated the NL West (16-7), and they return home on Monday to open a three-game series against the Giants.
And Miami hasn't been distracted by things it doesn't control.
While Ichiro has pursued 3,000 hits, resulting in a daily deluge of media from his native Japan as well as additional media from the United States, it's been business as usual for the Marlins, who have re-emphasized to a young roster that it's about the team, not an individual.
"Everyone is pulling for each other," said right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. "The leadership [of Mattingly] and the coaching staff gets credit for that. There's no panic. They understand it's a long season."
It's about Mattingly not allowing the event to overshadow the team. Ichiro collected his 2,998th hit on July 28, and his start on Sunday was his first since July 29. He did pinch-hit six times and enter a game as a defensive replacement once, going a combined 1-for-9. Ichiro started on Sunday only because in the early innings of Saturday's game, Mattingly felt Marcell Ozuna needed a rest.
"We stayed consistent with how we have played [Ichiro] all season," said Mattingly. "He knows his role. He's the fourth outfielder, and he accepts that. I look at that in the context of understanding that what we are about is winning games, and the team is more important. He knew he was going to get [3,000 hits]. It didn't matter if it was today or next week. What matters is we win."
And Mattingly has sent that message loud and clear to his players.
"He has done a great job of not forcing the issue," said Koehler. "When [Ichiro] was two hits away, he could have started him every game, or when he didn't get the record at home, he could have sat him down until we got back home, but he didn't change the approach.
"It was done the same way it has been done since early in the season. It showed that the focus is on winning, not anything else."
It is the message Mattingly has preached since the first day of Spring Training.
"I told them in that meeting that I had the map to success," Mattingly said. "I told them I haven't won anything, but I've been [to the postseason]. I know the route, but it's the players who have to get the job done. It's about them, as a team, not me or the coaches or any individuals."
The Marlins have listened.
Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com.