Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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Marlins capitalize on ninth-inning stumbles

This was a most lackluster effort by the Phillies. They were dominated by a 20-year-old rookie pitcher named Jose Fernandez. Their lone run was gifted by a Miami defensive miscue. Their own fielding gaffes blew it in the ninth.

Marlins capitalize on ninth-inning stumbles

MIAMI - The pitch went where Phillippe Aumont wanted it. Manager Charlie Manuel kept the ground-ball pitcher on the mound for this very reason. Chase Utley was positioned for a chance at preventing the winning run from scoring. The ball was hit right at him.

When the play ended, Placido Polanco belly-flopped on home plate and the Marlins claimed their second victory in 11 games, a 2-1 decision secured Saturday night with a ninth-inning rally.

"It was just a little fluke," Aumont said. "It could probably happen 100 times and it wouldn't be the same scenario. I was confident I was getting out of it."

This was a most lackluster effort by the Phillies. They were dominated by a 20-year-old rookie pitcher named Jose Fernandez. Their lone run was gifted by a Miami defensive miscue. Their own fielding gaffes blew it in the ninth.

The same scenario from Friday unfolded. With Marlins runners on the corners late in the game, the Phillies needed a grounder to prevent Miami from jumping ahead. A night earlier, Mike Adams induced a hard-hit one Utley turned into a double play. Aumont's sinker Saturday to Chris Coghlan resulted in a soft bouncer.

Utley could not field an in-between hop. He recovered too late to catch Polanco. It was ruled a single.

"We got the ground ball you're looking for," Utley said. "I just wasn't able to come up with it."

Polanco reached on a five-pitch leadoff walk against Aumont. "That killed me," the pitcher said. The next hitter, Greg Dobbs, smashed one to first. Kevin Frandsen, playing first base for the first time since 2010, nicked the ball with his glove. It popped into right field. Polanco halted at third, 90 feet from winning it.

"We can make those plays," Manuel said. "We can definitely make those plays."

The Phillies stumbled to the ninth. Fernandez confounded them for six innings. Cole Hamels held the Marlins hitless - with spectacular defense behind him - until Adeiny Hechavarria's two-out triple in the fifth. Fernandez followed with his first major-league hit, an RBI single to left. It was the lone mark against Hamels, who improved but still lacked top form.

"I just threw probably the worst pitch I could throw," Hamels said.

Fernandez's final act was impressive. The cocksure pitcher launches baseballs at 96 m.p.h. With a full count and a runner in scoring position, Ryan Howard expected a fastball. The scouting report, relayed by Manuel: "I have a feeling if you go up there looking for a fastball, you'll get some."

He threw Howard a curveball. Howard swung one-handed and froze with the bat pointed to the sky. The kid fooled him.

"We didn't hit him," Manuel said. "That was the bottom line."

Miami rushed Fernandez to the majors when injuries befell two starting pitchers immediately before opening day. His highest level of experience was single A, in the Florida State League. Bryce Harper is the only younger player in the majors. (The last Phillies player 20 or younger was outfielder Francisco Melendez in 1984.)

Once Fernandez departed, the Phillies tied it in the seventh. Miami handed them a run. Erik Kratz bounced into what should have been an inning-ending double play. The relay throw by second baseman Donovan Solano sailed into the first row of seats behind the Phillies dugout. Domonic Brown scored on the error.

It stayed tied until the ninth. The Marlins gathered at the top step of the dugout. They hopped up and down on a close strike call. A few leaped over the rail thinking a deep fly ball that landed foul would seal it.

Finally, when Polanco touched home, they erupted. Miami has scored 19 runs in 2013, three in this series' two games. But they celebrated Saturday and the Phillies did not.


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Matt Gelb Inquirer Staff Writer
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