Marlins make playoffs year after 105-loss season

NEW YORK — Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An National League-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said after a 4-3, 10-inning victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

The Marlins (30-28) became just the second team in MLB history to reach the postseason the season after losing at least 100 games, joining the 2017 Minnesota Twins. Their 16-season playoff drought was the second-longest active streak in majors, behind the Seattle Mariners (18). The Marlins have been to the playoffs only twice before in franchise history — they won the World Series both times.

After Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th, Marlins reliever Brandon Kintzler got major league batting leader DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.

Miami players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non-socially distant hugs.

The Marlins were one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

Miami returned to the field on Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the players on the injured list and won its first five games.

The Marlins survived a pair of four-game losing streaks to reach the expanded 16-team postseason. With games bunched, the Marlins are 14-12 heading into the final stretch of playing 28 games in 24 days.

“We’re just starting. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Sandy Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth.

New York had already wrapped up a playoff spot this year.

Mattingly captained the Yankees in 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins. Jeter captained the Yankees in 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Miami is second in the NL East at 30-28 and improved to 19-13 on the road. The Marlins will play 34 road games due to the schedule disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They arrived at their hotel at 5:30 a.m. ET on Friday following a rain-delayed win in Atlanta.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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