Sandy Alcantara wasn’t trying to overthink it. His goal in the decisive at-bat in the ninth inning was simple: Get a ground ball, one that could result in an inning-ending double play and force extra innings, and do everything in his power to give the Miami Marlins one more chance against the St. Louis Cardinals in their series finale on Wednesday afternoon.
Alcantara had a masterful performance to that point, keeping his pitch count down to the point where he was given the opportunity to go the distance and put the team’s fate on his right arm as the offense flailed.
But on Alcantara’s 108th and ultimately final pitch of the game, his luck ran out. The Marlins’ chance to squeak out a win evaporated.
Yadier Molina got hold of a 91.8 mph slider at the top of the zone that skipped down the third-base line past a diving Deven Marrero for a walk-off single to lift the Cardinals to a 1-0 win over the Marlins to complete the three-game sweep at Busch Stadium. Paul Goldschmidt scored the winning run after reaching base on a Jazz Chisholm Jr. fielding error and moving to second on a Matt Carpenter one-out walk.
“I just wanted to do my job,” Alcantara said postgame. “Go outside. Attack the hitters inning by inning, but I lost the game. That’s the game and I can do nothing about it.”
The Marlins (29-39) lost the first two games of the series 4-2 on Monday and 2-1 on Tuesday and are now 13-25 in road games this season. They have an off day on Thursday before starting a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs, who entered Wednesday tied for first place in the National League Central.
“You’re looking for consistency,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We had a little stretch there [at home] and then we came back on the road and we’ve kind of gotten throttled and struggled to get anything on the board.”
Regardless of the final score, Alcantara put together his latest quality start since that 1 1/3 inning dud against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 14. The 25-year-old righty threw a season-high 8 1/3 innings and kept the Cardinals scoreless through the first eight innings.
He struck out seven, walked one and got a pair of batters to hit into inning-ending double plays. Wednesday was the third time in Alcantara’s past five starts he threw at least eight innings while giving up two runs or fewer.
Alcantara was at 83 pitches through seven innings and 93 after a perfect eighth inning with no noticeable drop in velocity or command. Alcantara’s sinker was still hovering around 98 mph in the final innings.
“I think he earned it all day,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of giving Alcantara the chance to pitch in the ninth. “He kept his pitch count down. He stayed on the attack. His pitch count was at a point where we knew we’d have to watch it if it got too big there in the ninth, but you didn’t really feel like you had somebody better out there than what Sandy was going to be.”
But the Marlins, fielding a lineup without four regulars (Jesus Aguilar, Starling Marte, Adam Duvall and Isan Diaz) failed to put runs on the scoreboard, spoiling Alcantara’s gem and made him the second pitcher this season to throw a complete game and take the loss (the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright was the other on April 26).
And there were ample opportunities to score.
They had runners on first and third with one out in the fourth after back-to-back one-out singles from Jon Berti and Jesus Sanchez. Berti was thrown out at home on a Jorge Alfaro groundout to the right side and Lewin Diaz struck out to end the inning.
Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra led off the fifth with back-to-back singles. Marrero grounded into a double play that moved Brinson to third with two outs, Alcantara was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners and Chisholm grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
They had runners on first and second again with one out in the sixth after singles by Berti and Alfaro, but a Diaz lineout and Brinson flyout stranded them.
And Diaz barely missed on a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning that hooked foul.
“Obviously, not enough chances,” Mattingly said. You’ve got to give yourself more chances, but obviously we were a little bit younger lineup today. ... Had some good at-bats. Lewin squared up a couple balls right at people. Sanchez looked good. Lewin was just a few feet from keeping that last one fair. We had a couple chances, but we didn’t do anything.”
Mattingly’s use of a young lineup on Wednesday wasn’t necessarily surprising. He has routinely rested veteran starters on the final game before an off day so that they get back-to-back days off while only missing one game.
Plus, Mattingly said, “we weren’t really scoring with them in there. It was a shot to see what our young guys can do.”
And the Marlins are going to need to get extended looks on players like Sanchez and Lewin Diaz so they can have a large enough sample size to determine their value to the club as they work through the fourth year of this rebuild.