Sánchez walks it off, dons football helmet in celebration

Down four early, Marlins come back to seal first walk-off win of 2022

June 5th, 2022

MIAMI -- In the thick of the Marlins’ first walk-off celebration of 2022 was Jesús Sánchez wearing a white football helmet, decorated with the team’s current logo on both sides and the throwback fish on the top. 

Hours before first pitch on Saturday afternoon, the helmet appeared inside the home clubhouse. It quickly found a comfy spot in the dugout for batting practice. The helmet then made its dramatic debut thanks to Sánchez’s game-winning sacrifice fly in a 5-4 walk-off win over the Giants at loanDepot park.

“We're trying to make some history with this helmet now,” Sánchez said via an interpreter. “We don't have any token or anything to actually celebrate when we hit a home run or walk-off. Now we have the helmet.”

Jesús Aguilar led off the ninth with an infield single before sidearmer Tyler Rogers hit Avisaíl García with a four-seamer. Following a mound visit, Rogers balked when checking on Luke Williams, who pinch-ran for Aguilar. With a pair of runners in scoring position and no outs, San Francisco went to a five-infielder, two-outfielder defensive alignment.

Rogers entered Saturday with a ground-ball rate of 55.6 percent, which is above the Major League average. Despite his propensity for moonshots, Sánchez had a 50 percent ground-ball rate, which is above MLB average.

But Sánchez sent Rogers’ 1-2 slider at the top of the zone deep enough to center field to score Williams, who was facing the organization he played for just last week.

“I was told -- wasn't by me -- I was told I'm a very important player on the team,” Sánchez said. “‘Every time you perform, you bring runs in.’ It's something good, and that's what we're trying to do.”

After a blistering start in April (.282/.346/.493 slash line with 12 RBIs) that coincided with the club’s 12-8 record, Sánchez struggled mightily in May (.158/.210/.303 slash line with two RBIs). The young slugger’s lack of production hurt a Miami lineup that had grown accustomed to relying on him and Jazz Chisholm Jr. It showed in the standings, as the Marlins went 7-19 in May.

Sánchez’s bat has woken up in the past week. He knocked the furthest homer (496 feet) of any Major Leaguer in 2022 on Monday at Coors Field, then went deep again in Game 2 of Wednesday’s doubleheader vs. Colorado. His blast off position player Donovan Walton on Friday gave him two taters in three games in June, already matching his total from May.

“May was tough on him, and I said it, [the series vs. Atlanta from April 22-24] kind of sent him into a tailspin and he never really recovered for a while,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He's just starting to get back where we want him to be.”

Saturday’s game began on the wrong foot for the Marlins, as Pablo López put the club in a 4-0 hole by the fourth inning. He bounced back to go seven frames, retiring the final 11 batters he faced and maintaining the third-lowest ERA (2.18) in the National League.

The Marlins’ lineup couldn’t muster anything against López’s counterpart, Logan Webb, through four innings. Sánchez even tried bunting for a base hit his first time up. In the fifth, however, he got Miami on the board with an RBI double during a game-tying four-run rally that chased Webb.

“They just got the momentum going, and unfortunately, seems like they always tie it up,” Giants catcher Joey Bart said. “Seems like they just never score one less or one more. It almost seems like it always ties up, and they did their job. That's how it went.”

Saturday marked the largest deficit the Marlins have overcome in a win in 2022. More important than the theatrical conclusion, it followed their most lopsided defeat of the season, a 15-6 loss on Friday that looked more like a football than a baseball score.

Can this walk-off help turn the tide? It ended the fourth-longest walk-off drought (24 home games) in franchise history. Mattingly said to wait and see. Miami (22-29) put itself in a hole because of May’s swoon and has won consecutive games just once in the past month.

“What does it do for you and what does it tell you about our club?” Mattingly said. “Today's not really what tells me about our club. I've watched it all year long. I see the ability that we have, what we're capable of doing, and you believe in that, and so you know your club's capable of it.

“Honestly, these wins are good for you. Being able to come back is huge, to bounce back [from last night].”