MIAMI -- This weekend’s series between the Pirates and Marlins at loanDepot park was a tale of second chances.
“I came in very relaxed, looking for my pitch,” said Díaz via an interpreter. “That's what I was trying to do -- pretty much move the runner and get a long hit. I spoke with [bench coach James Rowson], and he told me, ‘Just wait for [your] pitch. Wait for [your] pitch and try to move the runner.’”
It may sound like a broken record, but this final stretch of the season is the perfect time for the young Marlins to gain valuable experience and to go through growing pains. The true test is whether they can adjust.
Sunday’s finale showed that the Marlins have that ability following the outcome of Friday’s opener.
After recording his first career multihomer game on Tuesday in Washington, Díaz had just two hits and five strikeouts in his next 14 at-bats. But he singled in the eighth on Sunday and then deposited Chad Kuhl’s full-count slider over the right-center-field wall for Miami’s third walk-off homer of the season. The last player to do so? His predecessor Jesús Aguilar on July 7 against the Dodgers.
Nine of Díaz’s 15 hits this season have gone for extra bases, so he is making the most of his knocks. And he’s not just getting it done at the plate. The slick-fielding first baseman thwarted a Pittsburgh rally in the eighth with a runner at second by making a sliding stop and tossing to first for the final out.
Earlier in the game, fellow rookie Jesús Sánchez made up for his ninth-inning at-bat on Friday, when he struck out swinging with the tying run at third and no outs. He put together a quality plate appearance with a runner at third and one out in the fifth on Sunday, flicking a curveball below the zone into left field for a sacrifice fly to give the Marlins a 3-1 lead.
“The younger guys playing together is always good energy,” manager Don Mattingly said. “I guess from the standpoint of just competition, honestly, healthy competition with all those guys is not a bad thing either. So I'm not sure they're feeding off of each other, but definitely I'm sure they enjoy playing together. When you've got basically rookies out there, it's a pretty good feeling.”
Pittsburgh chased ace Sandy Alcantara in the seventh inning with runners at the corners and no outs in a 3-2 ballgame, setting up a pivotal situation for another rookie.
Right-handed reliever Anthony Bender didn’t allow a run to score, aided by an impressive inning-ending double play that he started. Bender, who opened his career without allowing an earned run in his first 21 1/3 innings, did struggle with inherited runners (four of seven scored) during that span.
“We put him in tougher and tougher spots as the year's went on,” Mattingly added. “He seemed to have slowed down a little bit. Early on, it was like his breathing was pretty fast. He was emotional every time out there. It seems like as the year’s went on, he settled down some -- probably got more comfortable with being here. Whatever the situation we're going to put him in, I think it's probably a lot more comfortable, and just being able to slowly slow the game down I think in general.”
After a blown save in the ninth, Miami tied the game on rookie Bryan De La Cruz’s two-out RBI single in the bottom half of the frame. Unlike Díaz and Sánchez, both of whom have shown spurts, De La Cruz has been one of the Majors’ most consistent performers -- regardless of time in the league.
“You see De La Cruz, Sánchez, Lewin Díaz, these guys they've been doing a great job,” said Alcantara, who recorded his 22nd quality start of the season. “They’re working so hard, and when they get an opportunity, they try to take advantage of it. Lewin did a great job of trying to put the ball in play, and he walked off the game and we win. We feel happy about it, and they’ve got to keep doing that.”