In the final hours of the Miami Marlins' perfectly forgettable baseball season, one in which hardly anyone visited their new ballpark, in which even the organization's low expectations couldn't be met by its president of baseball operations, who was fired Friday, Henderson Alvarez threw nine no-hit innings Sunday afternoon at Marlins Park. He did not yet know if this would be a triumphant moment or, more in keeping with recent Marlins' tradition, a heartbreaking one.
On the occasion of the 27th out, with only a walk, a hit batter and an error sprinkled through a light Detroit Tigers lineup, Alvarez, the 23-year-old Venezuelan, pumped his fist and raised his arms and returned to the dugout to see if the Marlins – these 100-loss Marlins – might actually win the ballgame. While the Tigers had not scored, neither had the Marlins.
The Marlins, of course, do many things the hard way. And so Alvarez, one of the bits of future the Marlins acquired last winter from the Toronto Blue Jays in owner Jeffrey Loria's surrender of the present, sat behind the dugout netting for the bottom of the ninth inning and watched as a rally arose. When his no-hitter neared – the Marlins would have to win in the ninth or he would have to pitch the 10th – Alvarez had reached the on-deck circle, which he sprang from gleefully as Giancarlo Stanton rushed home on a game-ending wild pitch.
The Marlins had won, 1-0, and Alvarez had thrown the 282nd no-hitter in baseball history, the fifth in Marlins history, and the first for a group of men who'd had to carry on in a city mystified by the local baseball team and terribly unhappy with that team's owner.
"It's insane," Marlins reliever Steve Cishek said.
After the rare walk-off no-hitter, Alvarez found himself mobbed near the plate by teammates. He'd tossed away his bat and batting helmet, but still wore two batting gloves. Alvarez's catcher, Koyie Hill, caught him from behind, the celebration wonderfully out of sync, given pitchers who throw no-hitters are supposed to be standing on the mound, not wearing a batting helmet or batting gloves, and not standing near the backstop.
When his jersey had been shredded from his back, and his teammates were through with him, Alvarez found his pregnant wife, hugged her for a long time and gave her a long kiss. Not far away, Loria, who'd made such a mess of the Marlins for so long, watched with a smile.
Alvarez admitted later he'd believed the Marlins were ahead, 1-0, when he'd struck out Matt Tuiasosopo to end the top of the ninth. That was why, he said somewhat sheepishly, he'd given that little hop and raised his arms and then turned and wondered where all his teammates were. They were headed to the bat rack for the bottom of the ninth.
"I thought we were winning," he said.
Against Tigers reliever Luke Putkonen, Stanton singled. Logan Morrison singled. With two out, Chris Coghlan walked. Greg Dobbs, the veteran left-handed hitter, pinch-hit for Hill, with the bases loaded. Putkonen threw a slider, down and in, toward Dobbs' back foot. The ball skipped past Tigers catcher Brayan Pena to the backstop. Alvarez waved toward Stanton, everybody waved toward Stanton, who scored easily.
"A pitcher's dream," Alvarez said.
He'd begun the season on the disabled list because of inflammation in his right shoulder and didn't make his first start until July 4. In 16 starts before getting the ball Sunday against a Tigers lineup that was without Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson and gave two plate appearances to Prince Fielder, Alvarez was 4-6 with a 3.94 ERA.
A sinker-slider pitcher but with a four-seamer that rushes into the mid-90s, Alvarez retired 13 Tigers by ground ball and four by strikeout. Five days from now, the Tigers will be in Oakland for Game 1 of the American League division series, and manager Jim Leyland had fielded a team that said as much.
Still, Leyland told reporters in Miami, "First of all, congratulations to Alvarez."
Beyond that, the game served as a reminder that the Tigers offense – often without an ailing Cabrera – had fallen off in September.
"This could be a good thing," Leyland said. "This could be a wake-up call for our offense. You know, obviously we didn't have everybody in there today, and we were doing some different things. … Congratulations to the kid, he did a terrific job.
"We'll be ready to go. Our guys are relatively healthy. I loved what I saw [Sunday] out of [Justin] Verlander, [Doug] Fister and [Rick] Porcello. That's a good thing. You try to take the positive out of it and move on. They start to count big time on Friday. We'll be ready and looking forward to it."
The Marlins head off to winter as the worst team in the National League. Larry Beinfest has been replaced by general manager Michael Hill. The new general manager is Dan Jennings. The franchise direction remains at the whim of Loria.
But, for an afternoon, one very impressive and very thrilling and kinda loopy afternoon, the Marlins ran about and laughed and poured Gatorade buckets over one of their own.
"Mucho frio!" Alvarez shouted.
Very cold. But, maybe, just maybe, with young men such as Alvarez and Jose Fernandez and Stanton, getting warmer.
"It was an interesting day," manager Mike Redmond said. "I'm very proud of these guys, the way they finished up a tough year. We can go home feeling good and feeling confident about what we did at the end of the season here and get ready to build for next year."