Good Morning
Good Morning

It's been a roller-coaster ride for Marlins, and their bumpy journey is on the rise now

The Marlins' Corey Dickerson, left, Magneuris Sierra, center,

The Marlins' Corey Dickerson, left, Magneuris Sierra, center, and Matt Joyce, right, celebrate after a baseball game against the Mets on Friday at Citi Field. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

For eight miserable days, the Miami Marlins were the talk of baseball. Not for anything they did on the field, but for a nasty COVID-19 outbreak that halted the team’s play after three games and threatened to derail the entire MLB season.

Seventeen out of 30 Miami players tested positive for the virus. After eight miserable days, the Marlins took the field again in Baltimore on Tuesday with 17 new players — a rag-tag group of free agents, rookies and minor trade acquisitions assembled in a week by president of baseball operations Michael Hill and CEO Derek Jeter.

Among the new Marlins is Eddy Alvarez, a 30-year-old former silver medal-winning U.S. Olympic speedskater, and Monte Harrison, the brother of NBA player Shaquille Harrison. Neither had ever appeared in a big-league game.

And, of course, that rag-tag bunch went out and swept a four-game series at Camden Yards before beating the Mets at Citi Field on Friday night, 4-3.

If that sounds like the script of a bad movie . . . well, 2020 has been the script of one of the worst movies any of us can imagine. Take a feel-good story when you can get one.

The Marlins — a team that with its “A’’ players lost 105 games last season — have won six in a row and seven of their first eight going into Saturday.

The St. Louis Cardinals are the current team in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, with their season temporarily suspended. The Marlins? Now that they seemed to have flattened their curve, they are happy to ride the wave of an improbable winning streak.

“The Fish are trying to ride the wave as long as we can,” unflappable manager Don Mattingly said on a Zoom news conference before Friday night’s game at Citi Field.

Shortstop Miguel Rojas, one of the Marlins on the COVID-19 injured list, tweeted after Thursday’s win: “I’m sweating and I don’t have fever.”

On Friday, the Marlins used a three-run home run by former Yankee Francisco Cervelli in the second inning to jump out to an early lead.

Miami starter Humberto Mejia, who had never pitched about Class A, allowed one run and struck out six in 2 1/3 innings. Mattingly used six pitchers, including former Yankee Stephen Tarpley, who threw two shutout innings.

Mejia became the eighth Marlins player to make his major-league debut this season. The club has used eight starting pitchers in its first eight games, something that hadn’t happened in the majors since 1904.

As Ron Darling said during the SNY telecast on Friday, Hill already may have earned Executive of the Year honors with his COVID-19 roster revamp. In a six-day span beginning on Aug. 1, the Marlins made 36 separate transactions.

They had to. Miami has lost three-fifths of its rotation, eight of its original 12 relievers, Rojas, catcher Jorge Alfaro (he was the first Marlins player to test positive on July 24) and four other position players. Also, rookie second baseman Isan Diaz decided during the layoff to opt out of the rest of the season.

For Miami’s return on Tuesday, Hill added seven players who were acquired from other organizations during the layoff, activated two players from the injured list and called up eight players from the team’s alternate site (i.e., players who didn’t make the initial 30-man roster and were keeping fit at the team’s spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida.)

“A pretty good roster turnover here,” Mattingly said before the Marlins returned to action. “Some of the guys I’ve never met and still at this point have not met — texted with, but not met.”

In the classic 1989 baseball film “Major League,” a rag-tag bunch of players assembled practically off the street made it all the way to the postseason by beating the Yankees in a one-game playoff for the AL East crown.

But it wasn’t a worldwide pandemic that scuttled the roster of that flick’s fictional Cleveland Indians. It was the team’s owner, who wanted to have the worst club in the league so she could trigger an attendance escape clause and move the franchise.

To Miami.

Among the players signed by that mythical would-be Miami team was a raw speedster named Willie Mays Hayes (played by Wesley Snipes in the original and by Omar Epps in the inevitable, forgettable sequel).

This actual Miami team, as part of its post COVID-19 roster reshuffle, called up a former U.S. Olympic silver medal- winning speedskater.

Alvarez made his big-league debut on Wednesday and started at second base against the Mets on Friday. Going into Saturday, he’s still looking for his first hit (0-for-9 after striking out three times in four at-bats on Friday), but Alvarez did make two key defensive plays on Friday to help thwart a Mets rally in the eighth inning.

In 2014, Alvarez won a silver at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He is the first Winter Olympics medal-winner to play in MLB.

Alvarez was asked what speedskating and baseball have in common.

“The only similarity I can come up with is you go left,” he said.

Harrison is a true prospect, one of the top minor-leaguers in what the Marlins hope is a growing system under Jeter’s watch. The 24-year-old outfielder was supposed to be honing his skills in Triple-A this season. But the pandemic canceled the minor-league season and then created a need in Miami.

“I think our mindset is we like these guys,” Mattingly said. “Obviously, it’s probably not the perfect situation for them to be coming to the big leagues. But it’s what we’ve got.”

One thing Mattingly knows is these young guys will run through a wall for him. Harrison almost did just that on Thursday in Baltimore, slamming into the fence in left-center trying to make a play in the third inning. The rookie finished the game and picked up his first big-league hit but was out of the lineup Friday with a swollen knee.

“We’re ready to win games,” said Harrison, whose brother plays for the Chicago Bulls. “A lot of people don’t understand that we’ve got some people here that can play. Whatever they want to call us — the bottom-feeders or whatever — there’s a rude awakening that is going to be happening.”

Still, the Marlins hope to get their players who tested positive back as soon as possible. In the meantime, to add some familiarity to their surroundings, the team added cardboard cutouts of their missing players to the backstop before the first game at Camden Yards.

Miami used pitching — a lot of it — to win the first three games in Baltimore (two of them seven-inning doubleheader games on Wednesday) by scores of 4-0, 1-0 and 2-1. Mattingly used 14 different pitchers.

“It’s a real contagious feeling once you see guys go out there putting up zeros. You want to match that,” said pitcher Sterling Sharp, who made his MLB debut in Wednesday’s second game. “In the clubhouse, you could feel the vibe from all the new guys, too. They’re just coming in and they want to contribute. We’ve got a good vibe going.”

On Thursday, Miami outslugged the Orioles, 8-7. Mattingly became the winningest manager in Marlins history, passing Jack McKeon with his 282nd victory.

“He brings a lot of presence,” said closer Brandon Kintzler, who kept loose while waiting for the season to resume by throwing a ball against a mattress in his Philadelphia hotel room. “It’s Don Mattingly. You watched him from when you were a kid. The guy was gritty. That’s what he brings. That’s what I hope this team becomes, a gritty team.”

Mattingly was presented a bottle of champagne by Marlins ownership before the team left Baltimore by train to go to New York for the series against the Mets.

Was he tempted to open it on the train? Uh, this is 2020.

“A nice little bottle of bubbly for a train ride you’re not allowed to eat or drink on,” Mattingly said. “You don’t want to drink because you can spread the particles in the air. It was a nice gesture on behalf of the organization.”

The Marlins didn’t want to be exhibit A for what not to do in a pandemic, but they became just that when the virus ripped through their clubhouse. The general belief is they picked up the virus during a two-game exhibition series against the Braves in Atlanta on July 21-22.

There were early rumors that blamed the Marlins’ outbreak on some late-night partying in Atlanta. Jeter disputed that, saying: “There was no salacious activity. There was no hanging at bars. No clubs. No running around Atlanta. No running around the town.”

Still, baseball has since instituted strict new rules about what teams can and can’t do on the road, in the clubhouse and in the dugout.

If the entire sport hasn’t learned the lesson yet — the Cardinals’ outbreak is proof that even the strictest measures may not be enough in a team sport not played in a bubble — at least the new Marlins are spreading the message instead of the disease.

Alvarez, the speedskater/second baseman, was so excited when he was told he was going to the majors that he wanted to tell his family. He wanted high-fives. Maybe a few hugs. A measly fist bump or two?

Nope. Alvarez didn’t want to risk exposing his parents in the slightest. So he went to their Miami home and — just like the entire Marlins organization has had to — came up with a Plan B.

“My bright idea was to yell at them through the window,” he said. “I surprised them at the house I grew up in. I yelled along the lines, something like, ‘We did it!’ My dad didn’t quite understand what it was, but my mother did.”

Can the Marlins keep up the winning? Anything seems possible in a 60-game season. Eight of 15 teams in each league are going to make the playoffs.

Because of the eight-day layoff, Miami will have to finish the season playing 27 games in a 23-day span in September, ending with a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.

Is this real-life story going to end with Mattingly leading his rag-tag bunch to glory in the Bronx, the scene of his near- Hall of Fame playing career? Or is that too much like the script of a bad movie?

“I’m going to have to write a book after this,” Mattingly said. “You get tested, and you persevere.”

New York Sports