Alcantara carries Marlins to a series-opening win over Cubs

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Sandy Alcantara made it clear he wanted the ball Wednesday.

Simple as that.

He was the Miami Marlins’ opening day starter. He was on the mound the night they clinched their first playoff appearance in 17 years. He’s the team’s ace and closed the season on a strong note after missing a month as one of 18 players who tested positive for COVID-19.

If anyone was going to be the first player to take the mound when their postseason run began against the Chicago Cubs, it was going to be him.

“I think I can do it,” the 25-year-old said on the eve of the playoffs. “I think we can do it, too. The thing we have to do is go out there and enjoy the moment. Play hard. That’s what we have to do.”

He did his job, twirling 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball. Two swings from Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar in the seventh gave him all the run support he needed.

Final score from Wrigley Field: Marlins 5, Cubs 1.

Miami now needs just one more win in the best-of-3 wild-card series to advance to the National League Division Series.

The Marlins scored all their offense on a pair of home runs in the seventh from a pair of their veteran free-agent acquisitions this offseason.

Dickerson, a nine-year MLB veteran playing in his first career postseason game, clubbed a three-run home run to left field to break up the shutout. He scored Miguel Rojas and Chad Wallach, who reached on back-to-back one-out singles. Dickerson’s home run chased Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who stymied the Marlins’ offense to that point and got out of three consecutive jams in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

Starling Marte singled off Jeremy Jeffress and Aguilar, one of a handful of players on Miami’s roster with playoff experience, followed with a blast to right.

But until that point, Alcantara did everything in his power to keep the Marlins in the game.

He was antsy and amped up early, to use the words of manager Don Mattingly. He battled wind and rain and control of his pitches and at one point an error on what should have been an inning-ending double play.

But he kept his composure and avoided what could have been a disastrous start.

Take the first inning as a prime example.

Alcantara fell behind 3-0 to Ian Happ, the first batter he faced in his postseason career. He fought back to a 3-2 count and got Happ to ground out to Rojas at shortstop. He fell behind 1-0 and 2-1 to Anthony Rizzo before striking him out swinging with a 98.1-mph four-seam fastball. And then he fell behind 3-0 again, this time to Kris Bryant, worked the count full again, and ended the inning with Bryant hitting a pop up that Jon Berti sprinted maybe 25 yards to track down, making a sliding grab.

He worked around a leadoff walk to Kyle Schwarber in the second as rain began falling and a two-out single to Javier Baez by getting Victor Caratini hit an inning-ending ground ball to Berti.

And then in the fourth, Alcantara had Jason Heyward ground into what appeared to be an inning-ending double play only for Berti’s throw to first to sail wide and low, with Garrett Cooper unable to pick it. Heyward made it to second. Alcantara responded by getting Baez to fly out to left.

Alcantara’s lone blemish on Wednesday: A solo home run surrendered to Happ in the fifth that sliced through the wind and barely landed in the left-field seats. He retired six of the next seven batters he faced, with the only baserunner coming when he hit Willson Contreras, before walking Jason Kipnis with two outs in the seventh on his 100th and final pitch of the game.

Richard Bleier (1/3 inning), Yimi Garcia (1 inning) and Brandon Kintzler (1 inning) shut down the Cubs for the final 2 1/3 innings out of the bullpen to secure the win.


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