After only five games of what was supposed to be a season of promise and positives, the Miami Marlins organization is reeling following manager Ozzie Guillen's controversial comments regarding his praising of Cuba's Fidel Castro.
One seemingly heartfelt apology later, the Marlins will be without their skipper after suspending him for five games, starting Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in an early season showdown of top pitchers.
Guillen's tendency to speak freely on any subject in blunt terms was one of the key selling points to the Marlins fan base when hired as part of the franchise's overhaul this offseason. The Marlins spent lavishly on free agents ahead of moving into a new ballpark situated in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, with an eye on increasing the team's appeal to the large Cuban-American fan base.
However, a firestorm engulfed the franchise starting last weekend after Time magazine quoted Guillen - a native Venezuelan who at one point admitted to liking that country's controversial leader Hugo Chavez - in an interview saying he loves Castro and respected Cuba's retired leader for remaining in power for so long.
As the uproar grew, Guillen flew to Miami and provided a somber public apology Tuesday in hopes of beginning to mend fences with the Cuban-American community, many of whom are members of families that settled in Miami after fleeing the small nation as Castro solidified his power.
''I'm very sorry about the problem, what happened,'' Guillen said during the news conference. ''I will do everything in my power to make it better. ... I know it's going to be a very bumpy ride."
Marlins president Dave Sampson said the team never entertained the thought of firing Guillen, who called the comments "the biggest mistake I've made so far in my life.''
While Guillen will return to Philadelphia and address the team prior to this contest, bench coach Joey Cora will run the Marlins (2-3) for the final two games of this series and their three-game set at home versus Houston that begins Friday night.
The spotlight burning so brightly on Guillen has overshadowed another potentially spectacular matchup between Phillies ace Roy Halladay (1-0, 0.00 ERA) and Marlins counterpart Josh Johnson (0-1, 4.50). This will be the fifth time the two right-handers have gone head-to-head, and offense has been scarce - they have given up a combined 10 runs in those games.
Johnson has gotten the better of Halladay, going 2-1 with a 0.65 ERA in the last four matchups. He may be at a further advantage against Philadelphia (1-3), which is batting .198 overall and .179 with runners in scoring position following a 6-2 series-opening loss Monday.
"We're not hitting the ball hard enough to score runs,'' said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, whose team has scored eight runs in its four games as it tries to get by without injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Additionally, Johnson has enjoyed pitching at Citizens Bank Park, going 4-0 with a 1.87 ERA in five starts and six total appearances. He will be glad to not see Howard, who has gone 10 for 33 with three homers and two doubles off of him.
Halladay has put up strong numbers despite a 1-3 record when facing Johnson, posting a 1.74 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 31 innings. His lone victory was one for the history books - a perfect game May 29, 2010, when he struck out 11 in a 1-0 victory in which the Phillies scored their run on an error.
He appeared to be in midseason form Thursday at Pittsburgh, limiting the Pirates to a pair of first-inning singles in eight innings of a 1-0 win. Halladay struggled at times during spring training.
"He was a different guy than in spring training, I can tell you," catcher Carlos Ruiz told MLB.com. "He was definitely on. It's like he hit a switch. He turned it on, and he was ready to go."
The Marlins, though, may have some players eager to face Halladay. Jose Reyes is 12 for 29 with three doubles and two triples against him, Gaby Sanchez is 7 for 24 with two homers and Emilio Bonifacio is seeking his fourth consecutive multihit game in the young season.