PITTSBURGH -- Over 180 career big league games and going back to his minor league career, Marcell Ozuna has earned a well-deserved "free-swinger" stamp on his scouting report. Tuesday, in the pivotal moment of the series opener against the Pirates, Ozuna left the bat on his shoulder.
The result was spectacular.
With the bases loaded, one out and the Marlins trailing the Pirates 2-1 in the eighth, Ozuna got ahead of lefty Justin Wilson, 3-1. He fouled off a pair of full count fastballs that zipped in at 96 and 97 mph. On the eighth pitch of the plate appearance, Ozuna spat on a ball in the dirt for the game-tying, RBI-walk.
That ignited a five-run eighth that helped the Marlins snap a six-game Steel City losing streak with a 6-3, come-from-behind victory. A Pirates' error coupled with four walks, including two with the bases loaded, precluded the Pirates from beating the Marlins for the 11th time in 15 tries since 2012.
The Pirates used four different pitches in the eighth, none of whom appeared up to the task of preserving the 2-1 lead starter Charlie Morton left them.
Morton became the seventh consecutive opposing starter to hold the Marlins to a run over six or more innings. Including Morton's effort, in six of those games the starter completed exactly seven innings.
The last opposing starter to give up more than two runs to the Marlins: Collin McHugh July 27. He gave up four over 6 1/3 innings in a 4-2 Marlins win at Houston.
The runs came a little late for Brad Hand, who turned in another encouraging outing.
Not only had Hand not issued a walk, he'd only gone to three-ball counts on just two hitters before Neil Walker drew the five-pitch free pass to start the seventh. Hand missed with two changeups, and two of the next three fastballs.
A Jayson Nix sacrifice got Walker into scoring position, and the Pirates took the lead on Gregory Polanco's RBI-single through the left side. Though Hand broke the left-handed hitting Polanco's bat on the 1-0 fastball, he got enough to push it into the outfield.
That was just the sixth hit Hand allowed through 6 1/3 innings. While he didn't qualify for the win, Hand can take solace in delivering his fourth consecutive quality start. In seven starts since re-joining the rotation, Hand can boast a 2.27 ERA over 43 innings.
Tuesday, he retired eight of the first nine before Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer delivered two-out hits in the third. Mercer doubled into the right-field corner, allowing Marte to score from first. Entering the game, Hand had held opponents to a .236 average in 72 two-out at-bats.
Unlike Hand, Morton departed his outing in line for the win after holding the Marlins' hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position. Morton induced a pair of double plays, including Casey McGehee's major league-leading 21st in the sixth. The Marlins have totaled 91, second only to the Cardinals (101 through Monday) among National League teams.
Ozuna accounted for the lone score off Morton with a game-tying RBI-double in the fourth. Since doubling and tripling in a July 19 game against the Giants, Ozuna over his next 52 at-bats totaled two extra-base hits. He was on a 0-for-13 skid before ripping a Morton pitch down the left-field line.
Had Mercer gotten his relay throw to the plate on the fly, the Pirates would have denied Ozuna his 58th RBI and preserved a 1-0 lead. The ball arrived well ahead of the sliding Garrett Jones, but catcher Chris Stewart could not secure the short-hop.
The Marlins since their 3-15 road start are 21-14 outside South Florida.
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