OK, well, they didn’t want this goodbye. Sure, everyone knew before this playoff series the Miami Marlins' young talent didn’t match up against Atlanta’s developed lineup.
It was a tough to series to begin with, tougher as it lengthened — and by Thursday’s end they could just grit their teeth a little and appreciate making it this far.
That’s the real story, of course. Everyone knew that by this end, too. The Marlins season was a fun success in ways no one outside the team expected.
Are you kidding? Lose 100 games last year? Lose half your team to coronavirus infection? Still keep it together to make the playoffs? And then sweep the Chicago Cubs in the opening round?
There’s no way to connect those dots without labeling Don Mattingly the manager of the year and 2020 the kind of surprise that suggests something better ahead.
They still didn’t want this goodbye. They didn’t want rookie starting pitcher Sixto Sanchez, a centerpiece of tomorrow, not surviving the third inning of this final today.
"We didn’t get that big hit, we seemed to miss that this series,'' Mattingly said.
They didn’t want this pop-gun lineup that suffered the one injury they couldn’t afford — to Starling Martre — in these playoffs get shut out the final two games.
They really didn’t want Atlanta star and Marlins nemesis Ronald Acuna Jr. doing a celebratory dance out front of the Braves' dugout, singing and laughing, rubbing salsa in the wound of a 7-0 loss in Game 3 on Thursday and series sweep.
That’s not about old-school puritan baseball code versus new-school antics with Acuna. It’s just no one likes to see their rival laughing at your disappointment.
Education can be painful. It’s necessary, too. That’s the story about these so-young Marlins by Thursday. It’s the story to these last few days against an Atlanta team that’s a few years down the timeline from where the Marlins want to be. They hadn’t been to the National League Championship Series in 19 years. Now they go.
“They let us know where we’re at,'' Mattingly said. "We got closer, but they let us know exactly where we’re at.”
And, again, this doesn’t change the story of this Marlins season even as, one by one, they said goodbye to 2020. It started with Sanchez, who walked Acuna to start his unraveling in the third inning and didn’t make it into the fourth.
It continued in their third inning when the Marlins got first two runners on, Jon Berti and Corey Dickerson. They then had the bases loaded with two out. The Braves rookie starter, Kyle Wright, was showing some youthful struggles of his own, and the Braves bullpen got ready. Could they do something here?
Rookie Jazz Chisolm, getting his first playoff start, grounded out and that was that. The inning. The game. The season, too. There’s no shame to that end, no big questions, nothing but the view of a healthy tomorrow from the Marlins coming out of this season.
All those promised arms they built on?
You saw them come out to play this year.
All those hurdles they overcame?
There was the weeklong quarantine in Philadelphia, the 23-game road trip, the crazy scenes of Mattingly meeting a Marlins pitcher for the first time when he came into a game.
And the new-culture way to do business?
They stole home three times (the 29 other teams did it once) and tied for the league-lead with 11 one-run wins.
Let’s not overdo it. Those one-run wins have a way of turning around the next year if a next step isn’t coming. The Marlins aren’t a product that just needs polishing. It needs more the growing talents to keep growing.
And the offense? It was last in the league. The question becomes whether the young players who made cameos this season make an impact starting next year.
"I think we learned we’re getting better, and we saw flashes of those guys we’re counting on,'' Mattingly said. “We learned how we’re getting better and how we needed to improve. That’s what you do. You incrementally get better all the time to get where you want to go.”
You leave these playoffs not even sure what to make of some of the supposed building blocks. Catcher Jorge Alfaro was benched in postseason for good-catch, little-hit Chad Wallach. In a lineup desperate for hitting, that said something.
Next year’s story will be told by the Sanchezes and the Chisholms, the players they got in trades for big talents, more than the stats from this year like 20 players making their playoff debuts.
Still, well, they didn’t need Thursday’s end. Or, well, maybe they did from another view. Maybe a year that overachieved needed a reminder of the hard work to be done, the road still to go.
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