The decision to have Marcell Ozuna bunting in Friday's ninth inning with no outs, runners at first and second, and Giancarlo Stanton in the on-deck circle raised more than a few eyebrows. Even the Marlins' broadcasters were questioning the move. After all, if Ozuna had been successful with the sacrifice, it would have left first base open and the Mariners surely would have walked Stanton -- as they did in two of his previous plate appearances.
So what were the Marlins thinking?
"Trying to get a couple of guys in scoring position," manager Mike Redmond said afterward. "The way we've been going, if he (Ozuna) swings we might ground into a double play. Who knows? I just wanted to get guys in scoring position."
Even if it meant taking the bat out of Stanton's hands?
"I still take my chances with the bases loaded and one out and the four hole hitter (Garrett Jones) up at the plate with a chance to win the ballgame," Redmond said in defense.
There's no question that Ozuna is a double play candidate. He's hit into two of the three double plays the Marlins have grounded into this season. But he's no bunter, either. It's not something he's been asked to do very often during his professional career. He had six sacrifice bunts in the minors and one last season with the Marlins. He's also been swinging a solid bat, and one could make the argument he stood a better chance of driving in a run with a hit than, say, Jones.
But Ozuna is also hitting .158 (3 for 19) with runners in scoring position while Jones has done slightly better in those situations (5 for 20, .250).
Still, in bunting Ozuna, Redmond was effectively willing to sacrifice his most dangerous hitter in Stanton.
As it turned out, Stanton still got to the plate and won the game with a walk-off grand slam even after Ozuna bunted. Upon fielding Ozuna's bunt, the Mariners went for the force at third, where Reed Johnson was called out. But after reviewing the play, the call was overturned when it was determined Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager failed to maintain complete control of the ball.
But what if the out call had been upheld? The Marlins would have had runners at first and second with one out and Stanton at the plate. Think the Mariners would have pitched to him? Privately, a couple of players on the Marlins don't think so, pointing to the fact that as the play at third was being reviewed, Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon had gone to the mound to confer with reliever Yoervis Medina.
"I'm sure he was telling Medina to throw Stanton a couple of pitches down and away to see if he chases," one player said. "If he doesn't, then put him on."
McClendon all but admitted as much afterward, saying there was no way he wanted to give the hot-hitting Stanton any chance to beat him.
Once the call at third was overturned, McClendon had no choice.
"I knew this game was probably over with after the reversal," McClendon said.
McClendon had nothing but praise for Stanton after the slugger's grand slam left the Mariners walking off in defeat.
"He's a force," McClendon said. "His strike zone is getting better. He's probably a much more patient hitter now than when he first came into the league. Knowledge is power, and he's got knowledge. He knows the pitchers now. He knows how they're going to try to work him."
Redmond was also raving about Stanton, who leads the majors in RBI with 26 -- seven more than the next player on the list -- leads the N.L. in runs scored with 14, and is tied with three others for the league lead in home runs with six.
"This guy has had an unbelievable month," Redmond said. "Really it started for him in spring training. He came in ready to go. You could just see a new focus, a new energy and drive out of him. I think that's really carried over."
Specifically, Redmond said the most notable change from Stanton this season as compared to a year ago is his pitch selection.
"He's more aggressive at pitches that he knows that he can handle," Redmond said. "Pitches up in the zone, last year, maybe he took some of those pitches, whereas this year he seems to be right on them all the time. I think the key for him is to eliminate the balls down and away and in the dirt. Once he's able to do that, then watch out. I think teams are starting to see that now, where he's starting to lay off those pitches and as he continues to swing at balls in the strike zone, there's not limit as to how much damage this guy can do."
Redmond said Stanton is also making better adjustments within at bats. Example: his ninth-inning at bat Friday against Medina.
"Last night, he missed that first breaking ball he threw him and the second one he crushed it," Redmond said. "That shows you he's able to make in-game adjustments pitch by pitch. And usually when you see a hitter able to make adjustments pitch by pitch, that's a pretty good sign he's locked in."
The walk-off grand slam by Stanton was the fifth in Marlins history. The others: Bobby Bonilla (9/16/97 vs. Colorado), Dan Uggla (6/11/08 vs. Philadelphia), Stanton (5/13/12 vs. New York Mets) and Jeff Mathis (6/30/13 vs. San Diego).
According to Elias, Stanton is one of only two players to hit two walk-off grand slams before his 25th birthday. The other: former Marlins hitting coach Jim Presley. The major league record for most career walk-off grand slams is three and is shared by Alex Rodriguez, Cy Williams and Vern Stephens.
-- The Marlins have homered in nine consecutive games, the longest such streak since the team homered in nine straight from June 30-July 8, 2012. The franchise record for consecutive games with at least one home run is 14.
-- Christian Yelich takes a career-high 12-game hitting streak into tonight's game.
Jacob Turner will throw one more bullpen session Sunday before heading up to Jupiter to begin a rehab assignment for the Single A Hammerheads. Turner will make his first rehab start on Wednesday for Jupiter and throw anywhere from 50 to 55 pitches. He'll make one more rehab start after that before rejoining the Marlins' rotation.
"If all goes according to plan, it'll probably be the beginning of May," Turner said of his return.
-- Second baseman Rafael Furcal (hamstring) will continue his rehab assignment at Double A Jacksonville starting on Monday. Furcal has been seeing action at Jupiter.
Top prospect Colin Moran, who has yet to play this season due to a minor knee injury, will likely begin playing in extended spring games next week in Jupiter. The third baseman was the Marlins' first-round pick in last year's draft.
Marlins: 1. Christian Yelich 7; 2. Marcell Ozuna 8; 3. Giancarlo Stanton 9; 4. Casey McGehee 5; 5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia 2; 6. Jeff Baker 3; 7. Adeiny Hechavarria 6; 8. Donovan Solano 4; 9. Henderson Alvarez 1.
Mariners: 1. Abraham Almonte 8; 2. Brad Miller 6; 3. Robinson Cano 4; 4. Justin Smoak 3; 5. Michael Saunders 9; 6. Kyle Seager 5; 7. Dustin Ackley 7; 8. Mike Zunino 2; 9. Roenis Elias 1.