The Marlins era under Derek Jeter started loudly with the debut of a new team anthem called “Just Gettin’ Started” that drew mixed reaction.
Then came a louder response to the first pitch of the MLB season from Jose Urena, which Ian Happ drove into the right-field seats, eliciting raucous cheers from numerous Chicago Cubs fans in the crowd of 32,151 who made Opening Day at Marlins Park sound like their own Friendly Confines.
Majory Stoneman Douglas grad Anthony Rizzo struck an emotional blow for South Florida with a home run in the second inning that gave Chicago a 4-1 lead.
The Cubs would hit three homers in an 8-4 victory to spoil the maiden game of new Marlins ownership under Jeter and Bruce Sherman.
“They have a huge fan base, everybody knows that,” Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson said of the support for the visitors. “We’ve got to build ours. I heard plenty of Marlins fans out there. I’m glad for everybody who showed up today, Cubs or Marlins fans. We’ll get them out to the ballpark. All we have to do is win games.”
A young Marlins team, featuring 12 players in their first Opening Day on a big-league roster, did show tenacity in battling back from a three-run deficit to even the score at 4 and chase veteran left-hander Jon Lester after 3 1/3 innings from his seventh Opening Day start.
It was the sort of resiliency that Marlins manager Don Mattingly is counting on to defy forecasts of losses pushing triple-digits for a young squad that has shed stars Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon.
“This team has a lot of fight in it,” said Brinson, the Coral Springs High grad who made his Marlins debut in center field. “Lester is an established big-leaguer. For us to get him out in the fourth inning meant a lot.
“Obviously, we’ve got to get the win.”
With Brinson’s fellow rookies Brian Anderson and Garrett Cooper combining to drive in three of the four runs, Marlins fortunes brightened momentarily to match the splendid weather with the roof open.
Derek Dietrich, replacing Yelich in left field, started a three-run third inning with a triple off the wall in left. Anderson drove in his second run with a single that got past left fielder Kyle Schwarber for a two-base error. That set up Cooper for a game-tying single, the first RBI as a Marlin for the former Yankee who started in Giancarlo Stanton’s former place in right field.
Anderson and Cooper were among four Marlins starting in their first Opening Day games.
But the lessons are just beginning for this group, and they have a long way to catch up to the Cubs, who underwent a similar rebuild before winning the World Series in 2016.
Doubles by Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras put Chicago ahead to stay in the fourth. “I think we were able to take advantage of some mistakes up in the zone, kind of lay off some of his pitches he wanted us to swing at,” Anderson said of Lester. “It’s nice to have a good day, but at the end of the day it’s about winning and that’s the culture were trying to build right now.”
The Marlins had runners on third base with one out in the fourth and fifth innings but had both threats snuffed out by their former closer, Steve Cishek.
The big disappointment for Miami was the perplexing outing by Urena.
Happ’s homer was just the beginning of a nightmarish first-inning for the Dominican right-hander in his first Opening Day start. A 14-game winner who often struggles with control, Urena had no sense of the strike zone initially.
He hit three batters and walked two in the inning, pushing two more runs across the plate.
Perhaps he was shy about throwing a strike after what happened to his first pitch. Happ is believed to be the first player to hit a homer on the first pitch of the major league season since Dwight Evans of the Boston Red Sox took Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris deep in 1986.
Happ, who was also playing in his first opener, said he has hit Urena well and was looking for a fastball, which he got and didn’t miss.
It summoned embarrassing memories from previous openers at Marlins Park under previous ownership. There was the inaugural game in 2012 when the Marlins didn’t get a hit until the seventh inning against the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse. Then in 2015, the embarrassment of getting caught with the roof open by a fast-moving storm that led to a rain delay.
No complaints about the weather Thursday. Whether the future for the Marlins is as bright as the day remains to be seen. They’re just getting started.
But Marlins manager Don Mattingly was impressed with the energy in the ballpark saying, “It did feel like a home opener, a lot more than the first couple of years here. Obviously, you can hear the Cubs fans a little bit, but I still felt like it was representative of our community and an energetic game.”