NEW YORK (AP) — Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.
An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.
“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees 4-3 on Friday night.
Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.
“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”
The Marlins became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. They did it despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.
After Jesús Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th, Marlins reliever Brandon Kintzler got major league batting leader DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.
Miami players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs.
The Marlins were one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.
"We’re just starting. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing," said Sandy Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth.
New York had already wrapped up a playoff spot this year.
Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.
Miami is second in the NL East at 30-28 and improved to 19-13 on the road, The Marlins will play 34 road games due to the schedule disruption caused by the coronavirus; they arrived at their hotel at 5:30 a.m. following a rain-delayed win in Atlanta.
Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.
After the Yankees tied the score on Aaron Hicks’ two-run double in the third off Alcantara and Aaron Judge’s two-out RBI single off Yimi García in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).
Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka’s throw to third hit Harrison in the back giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games,
With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly to the right field warning track as Harrison scored easily.
Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances. LeMahieu went 0 for 4, lowering his batting average to .348.
The Marlins ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors — the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.
Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.
The Marlins survived a pair of four-game losing streaks to reach the expanded 16-team playoff. With games bunched, the Marlins are 14-12 heading into the final stretch of playing 28 games in 24 days.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected.
Boone sprinted out to face scream at Tumpane from up close. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.
Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sánchez but was sent back to first, apparently because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach.
Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.
New York tied Pittsburgh for the major league lead with 46 errors. Sánchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.
Miami is 28-0 when ahead after seven innings.
Friday marked the fourth anniversary of the death of Marlins All-Star pitcher José Fernández at age 24, who died while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system.
“It is an emotional day,” Mattingly said.
The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
RHP Deivi García (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. García will be making the sixth start of his rookie season. “A very different season, especially tough for minor leaguers,” he said through a translator.
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