Dave Hyde: 'Bottom Feeder' Marlins won over baseball — but can they win over South Florida?

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Look, it’s been a fun run, but the Miami Marlins have no chance against Atlanta. None. Zero. Anyone with a glove and bat knows so. Atlanta leads the league in hits, runs, slugging and OPS percentages.

Its bullpen is tops. The Braves also have three Most Valuable Player candidates in Freedie Freeman, Marcel Ozuna, Ronald Acuna Jr. It’s been a fun run for the Marlins, but …

Oh, wait. I’m just doing my part. I’m providing the kind of motivational sustenance the Marlins need after a national outbreak of rancid back-patting and dangerous hat-tipping in the wake of their playoff sweep of the Chicago Cubs.

The Marlins embraced the T-shirted theme of “Bottom Feeders” — considering no one picked them to win anything this year and former Philadelphia pitcher Rick Bottalico actually called them, yeah, “bottom feeders.”

“You know what we’ve been through, right?” manager Don Mattingly shouted to his players during the celebratory photo at Wrigley Field on Friday — and after Mattingly, at 59, made a running slide, ending in a perfect pose for the photo.

What they’ve been through in their storybook story involves quarantines, questions, unknown players, a 23-day road trip that included Buffalo and another query beyond Mattingly’s on Friday:

Could South Florida become a baseball town again? Is it possible? Could the sport that turned away so many people for so many years in so many ways that only general manager Michael Hill has been around to understand — could it make a rebound?

If so, this is the script to start that journey. Any comeback always involves results, not plotted process, considering the failed ideas and false starts from previous eras.

Any comeback includes a bandwagon, too. One is virtually loading now — let’s not hear from the sanctimonious Marlins fan who stayed with them through thin and thin about bandwagon jumpers. You should only be so fortunate. What, you want an empty stadium forever?

Let’s not oversell this. It tells of the sudden glut of good news in South Florida that the Marlins can be the best story in baseball but still not the best in the local market. The Heat are. They reassembled their roster after not making the playoffs last year and are in the NBA Finals this year.

That diminishes nothing from the Marlins, considering their journey involved a week of isolation in Philadelphia complete with pitchers throwing baseballs harnessed in socks in hotel rooms, players running sprints in hallways and the manager doing his part to stay sane.

“More push-ups,” Mattingly said.

Baseball, for all its numbers, had never seen numbers like this: 18 players lost to the virus, 61 players used in the 60 games and a handful of pitchers who met Mattingly for the first time as they came into a game.

Question: Do all 61 players get a ring if the Marlins win the title? Would they dig that deep? Just asking for the likes of Olympic speedskating silver medalist, Eddie Alvarez, who played second base for a bit, and Brandon Leibrandt, who was signed from the New Jersey Blasters, sight unseen, and pitched four scoreless innings in his debut.

If such moves tells of the way the front office kept the “bottom feeders” afloat, this two-game sweep in Chicago tells of what’s coming. Starting pitchers Sandy Alcantara, 25, and Sixto Sanchez, 22, pitched a combined 11 2/3 innings and yielded just one run. There’s more young arms where they came from, too.

That’s the crucial part if South Florida is to embrace these Marlins again. Sustained winning matters — not just winning for a month. Even when the Marlins had a twitch of winning in 2016, the departed Christian Yelich said after one game, “I always was told it would get loud if we ever won. And it’s true. We’ve won a little and it’s loud.”

It can’t be loud in this year of the pandemic. And it was odd to see the Marlins celebrating before no fans with little noise, like kids let out on recess. The oddest part was simply the Marlins celebrating again.

Did anyone expect to see that this year? That’s what makes it such a good story as well as a T-shirted one. They’ve won the world of baseball. Winning South Florida back might be next.


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