The audition for the July 10 Home Run Derby has been underway throughout opening week at Marlins Park.
The Marlins’ Marcell Ozuna continued his assault on the fences Saturday with his third of the homestand and fifth of the season, and Justin Bour followed with one of his own in the second inning.
The back-to-back homers, off Jacob deGrom, were a first for the Marlins since Aug. 8. They were the 15th and 16th hit in the first five games Marlins Park, normally a graveyard for long flies.
But there would be more fireworks to come before those scheduled after the game would celebrate a 5-4 Marlins win.
In the eighth inning, Christian Yelich stepped up with two outs and the Marlins trailing by two runs, and sent a 3-1 fastball from Fernando Salas into the far reaches of right field for a tying two-run homer.
The mechanical marlins had barely stopped spinning and the crowd was still roaring when Giancarlo Stanton sent another Salas fastball rocketing into the bushes just over the wall in center field.
“He got on top of that high heater right there and it was a 9-iron in the bushes,” Yelich said of Stanton’s game-winning smash. “He’s been known to do that here now and then.”
Asked to put Yelich’s homer into golf terms, Stanton said, “His was a chip shot, a chip shot to the upper deck.”
The two Marlins outfielders were still wiping shaving cream from their faces and hair as they discussed their heroics, a testament to the magnitude of a second consecutive one-run win against the Mets since an excruciating 16-inning loss in the first game of the series.
They did it while facing two of the top starters in the National League in Noah Syndergaard (Friday) and Jacob deGrom, who on Saturday tied a career high with 13 strikeouts in seven innings.
“They’re a really good team. To play them as well as we have says a lot about our group as well,” Yelich said.
Stanton said: “Different hero every night is what we need to be to keep the line moving. I wasn’t really trying to hit a homer – just hit something hard in the gap, maybe get a double and have Bour hit me in.”
It was the third time in club history the Marlins have hit back-to-back homers twice in a game (most recently Aug. 27, 2010 in Atlanta; Cameron Maybin and Logan Morrison, Dan Uggla and Gaby Sanchez).
There have been 19 homers hit this week at Marlins Park, an average of 3.8 a game. Four players had multi-homer games.
In 2016, Marlins Park yielded only 1.54 homers a game – only San Francisco’s AT&T Park was harder to reach the seats (1.47 homers a game) among National League Parks.
“I think guys are just putting some good swings on balls – them and us, capitalizing on mistakes,” Yelich said. “That’s what the big leagues is. You’ve got to take advantage when guys make mistakes, and we were able to do that tonight.”
All of the long balls turned strong outings by both starters into footnotes.
Aside from the homers by Ozuna and Bour, deGrom mostly overpowered the Marlins. The Mets right-hander got stronger as the game went on, getting most of his strikeouts after the third inning. He recorded all three outs on strikes in three different innings.
Marlins starter Adam Conley had a dominant stretch of his own, retiring 15 consecutive batters before Neil Walker got on with a well-placed bunt to the left side to open the seventh inning.
Conley became the first Marlins starter to go past the sixth this season. But he wasn’t able to record an out in the seventh. Curtis Granderson followed Walker with a drive to right-center that ticked off Yelich’s glove for a triple.
That tied the game at 2 and ended Conley’s night. But Granderson would come home on pinch-hitter Michael Conforto’s sacrifice fly off reliever Dustin McGowan.
Conley, who was summoned for emergency duty in the 16th inning Thursday, and served the winning homer to Travis D’Arnaud in that marathon, was much more comfortable in his normal element as a starter.
It took him a couple of innings to settle in, though.
The left-hander began the night with control problems, walking the leadoff man in the first two innings. It led to a run in the opening frame, on Walker’s two-out double. He stranded the runner at second the next inning.
After that, Conley was effective and economical, getting most outs on early contact. He recorded only two strikeouts, including getting dangerous Yoenis Cespedes to flail at a fastball up and out of the zone. He got through six inning on 73 pitches (44 strikes).
Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera added a home run off Junichi Tazawa (the third homer off the reliever in five innings this season) in the eighth.
The Marlins were in a bind trailing 4-2 when Salas came on and retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the eighth. But Miguel Rojas coaxed a walk to bring Yelich to the plate representing the tying run.
Acknowledging that his at-bats have been erratic over the past week, Yelich said, “Right there I was just [thinking], make sure you get a good pitch to hit and don’t really try and force it. And was able to catch one.”
It has been happening surprisingly often by a bunch of hitters this week, making formidable Marlins Park play like a bandbox.
“It’s been carrying well,” Stanton said, “which it usually does until it gets super humid outside. April is usually pretty good.”