MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Marlins Park a winner despite game result

Justice: Marlins Park a winner despite game result

MIAMI -- There was a moment in the bottom of the ninth inning when the crowd got loud and the place began to rock, and in that instant, the Marlins sensed what their new ballpark could become.

"You could really feel the energy," catcher John Buck said. "To have that amount of people in there pulling for you is pretty special."

It lasted for just a few minutes, because this was a game the Cardinals controlled from the start, scoring two first-inning runs and getting 7 1/3 dominant innings from Kyle Lohse on their way to a 4-1 victory Wednesday night.

Still, when Jose Reyes led off the ninth with his second single of the game, when the Marlins had their sluggers coming up and the game within reach, Marlins Park had something magical building.

"You could feel that energy as soon as Reyes got that hit," Buck said. "That's the type of energy that comes with having that many fans in a baseball stadium."

In this first regular-season game at Marlins Park, we learned a few things. One is that the 36,601 fans were close to the action, seemingly right on top of the players.

"There might be less foul territory here than any place else in baseball," Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman said.

The other thing we learned is that the park plays huge, that there aren't going to be any cheap home runs and that center-field play is going to be critical. Jon Jay of the Cardinals had a huge game in running down ball after ball, going back toward the wall to get one from Giancarlo Stanton in the second inning, and then running down another from him in the fifth.

Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said the park was built "to play fair," and that he thought it was the right dimensions for a franchise that intends to emphasize pitching and defense.

Just like other pitcher-friendly parks, there are going to be some frustrated hitters, as moonshots occasionally aren't always going to get out of the park.

"It's the biggest ballpark in the game," Berkman said. "It's huge. If they don't move the fences in after this year, I'd be surprised."

It'll be interesting to watch players react to the futuristic design and dazzling colors as they see the place for the first time. If your idea of a baseball park is Camden Yards or Fenway Park, Marlins Park will shock the senses on many levels.

"I think I have a bass lure that color," Berkman said.

Different strokes for different folks.

"But," Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said, "I'm not from Miami. I'm from Oklahoma. Hey, that's the culture. With the nightclub in left field, I got music the whole night. You can't hear anything."

What's really important is that for the first time in their history, the Marlins have a ballpark that belongs exclusively to them, and if it's different than other places, so much the better.

"It's unbelievable," Reyes said. "It's nice. It doesn't matter how good the ballpark looks, you've got to win. When you win, everything's going to look beautiful."

The Marlins didn't get a hit until Reyes grounded a single to right to lead off the seventh inning. Until then, it appeared they may break in their new home by making the wrong kind of history.

"I'm sure with human nature, those guys wanted to be the first to hit a home run in this ballpark, get the first hit, drive in the first run," Holliday said. "Sometimes when you try too hard, combined with a guy locating his pitches, you can get those results."

It was one lousy loss, one that won't count anymore. But in a lot of ways, it felt like a victory, because the Marlins finally have a home that's beautiful and different and part of the championship club they intend to build.

In that way, in the things that will count and matter long after this one game is forgotten, it was a hugely successful evening.

"It was a good atmosphere, a lot of fun out there," Lohse said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.