Prior to the Miami Marlins’ do-or-die Game 2 of the National League wild card series against the Philadelphia Phillies, first baseman Josh Bell noted how he was “pumped to celebrate after the game.”
The Marlins’ backs were against the wall. They had nowhere to turn. It was either win or have their season come to an unceremonious end.
“I trust these guys,” Bell said about three hours before first pitch. “I trust the guys in our clubhouse. We’ve done it time and time again. I felt like last night we were going to win that game. Every time that we take the field, it feels like a game that we’re going to win. I feel like if you don’t have that mentality, then you’re not going to stick around in this game very long.”
That internal belief and resiliency carried them through the regular season and got them into the playoffs this year for the first time in a full season in two decades, for the first time since winning the 2003 World Series.
It didn’t, however, translate into results in the playoffs.
The Marlins lost to the Phillies on Wednesday, 7-1, at Citizens Bank Park to end their 2023 season getting swept in the best-of-3 series in Philadelphia. Miami lost the series opener 4-1 on Tuesday.
“We lost to a really good team,” first-year Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said, “and I don’t think there’s much to hang your head about because they gave it everything they had. We just fell short.”
Their season that saw the team defy odds in Year 1 under first-year manager Skip Schumaker ended with a dud, but the lead-up to this point — to reaching the postseason — is something the baseball world didn’t see coming.
They knew very few externally thought they would be a contender this season. They were given just 23.6 percent odds to make the playoffs, according to FanGraphs.
Inside the clubhouse, though, there was optimism. Even before the first day of spring training workouts, Schumaker worked to establish a winning culture throughout the organization.
“You want them to have confidence,” Schumaker said. “If you don’t believe in yourself, what’s going to happen? Are you going to expect other people to believe in you? You have to come in with the mind-set of you’re going to win tonight. I don’t know another way to put it.”
And throughout the season, they embraced that mentality ... and backed it up.
The Marlins went 84-78 in the regular season, their first winning campaign outside of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season since 2009 and a 15-win improvement from last season. To get there, the Marlins went 33-14 in one-run games and won 41 games in comeback fashion — including 16 games when behind after six innings.
Every time it seemed like there was no way out, when it felt like the dam was about to break, they found a way.
That’s why there was still a sense of hope going down to the final day.
“I hope those guys, every one of those guys, are coming into the ballpark expecting to win,” Schumaker said. “... When you’re in this position, you’re expecting to win. That’s part of the competitiveness of a Major Leaguer.”
It worked in the regular season but fell flat in the playoffs.
After losing Game 1, Miami once again found itself in an early hole Wednesday. The Phillies scored two runs in the third inning against starting left-handed pitcher Braxton Garrett on a Cristian Pache leadoff walk, one-out Kyle Schwarber RBI double and one-out Trea Turner RBI single.
J.T. Realmuto then belted out a leadoff home run against David Robertson in the fourth to pad Philadelphia’s cushion before Bryson Stott’s sixth-inning grand slam against Andrew Nardi put the game out of reach.
The offense also fell flat for a second consecutive night. On Tuesday, Phillies starter Zack Wheeler held them to one run over 6 2/3 innings.
On Wednesday, Aaron Nola threw seven shutout innings before Orion Kerkering and Gregory Soto threw the final two innings out of the bullpen, holding Miami to one run — a Bell two-out RBI single in the ninth that scored Xavier Edwards — to seal the win.
And the Marlins hurt themselves as much as they were contained by Nola, who allowed just three hits, one walk and one hit by pitch. Shortstop Jon Berti was thrown out trying to steal third base with one out in the third despite National League batting champion Luis Arraez being in the on-deck circle.
Two of their four baserunners they had against Nola were erased by groundball double plays, which have plagued the Marlins’ offense all season.
A dud of an end, but it shouldn’t overshadow what was accomplished in the season.
“We know we’re a great team,” Marlins center fielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. said. “We know we’re a winning team. It’s just hard to lose here. We expected to go further.”