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Marlins hope Alvarez's gem is sign of bright future

Marlins hope Alvarez's gem is sign of bright future

Marlins hope Alvarez's gem is sign of bright future

MIAMI -- A walk-off no-hitter, as exhilarating as it was, doesn't erase all the hardships and heartaches from a trying season for the Marlins.

What it does do is give a small sampling of what it feels like to win in a meaningful game atmosphere and bond together as a team. For a young club, it may represent a starting point for a franchise resurgence.

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The Marlins didn't have a whole lot to cheer about in a 62-100 season, but they take into the offseason the thrill of Henderson Alvarez tossing an improbable no-hitter in a 1-0 victory over the Tigers on Sunday.

Alvarez, who posted the fifth no-hitter in franchise history, was finally able to celebrate after Giancarlo Stanton crossed the plate on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth.

Greg Dobbs was at the plate, and Alvarez stood on deck, when Luke Putkonen's pitch skipped past catcher Brayan Pena. Dobbs frantically waved towards Stanton, who sprinted home and into the arms of his teammates.

"A great way to end the season," Dobbs said. "That leaves these guys with a great taste in their mouth, knowing that's what it feels like to play against a postseason team."

The Marlins understand what was at stake in the finale. The Tigers, having clinched the American League Central before the series, rested their regulars. Prince Fielder had two plate appearances on Sunday, and Miguel Cabrera was out of the lineup.

Still, former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander was on the mound, and he was dealing, striking out 10 in six shutout innings.

"Obviously, they didn't have their horses out there," Dobbs said. "Granted that. But not to take anything away from us and what Henderson did, and how we stayed in that game the whole way through.

"This gives these guys a very good idea of what it takes to beat a really good team, and how exciting it can be. That's what baseball is all about, games like that. It matters to us."

Alvarez's no-hitter was the third in the big leagues in 2013, as he joined Tim Lincecum of the Giants and the Reds' Homer Bailey.

After scaling down the payroll from around $100 million in 2012 to roughly $37 million this season, the Marlins accepted the fact they were going through a transition period.

With a young squad, they took their lumps. They opened the season at Washington, being shut out in their first two games. It wasn't until the second inning of the third game that they scored their first run.

From the opener through May 30, they were 13-41, and there seemed little hope for a turnaround.

Their fortunes turned on May 31, and since that date, the Marlins were 49-59.

Although the Marlins finished with the second worst record in the Majors, since May 31, eight teams lost more games -- including the Giants and Phillies (61 apiece).

Progress is what the Marlins sought all season, and in the end, they made it.

"It was an interesting day," manager Mike Redmond said. "I'm proud of these guys with the way they finished up this tough year.

"We can go home feeling good and feeling confident about what we did at the end of the season, and get ready to build for next year. I'm already excited."

Alvarez's effort inspired the entire club to do more.

Under normal circumstances, the right-hander would have been out of the game after eight and certainly nine innings.

Yet, if there was a 10th inning, Alvarez -- who finished with 99 pitches -- would have been out there.

"He was going to go the 10th," Redmond said. "I was going to give him another inning, another shot at it. If he could have gotten through that next inning, that was probably it. I wasn't going to run him over 115-120 pitches."

Logan Morrison, who singled in the ninth, noted that he was ready to do whatever it took in the ninth inning to settle matters right there.

Setting up the thrilling finish, Stanton and Morrison lined back-to-back singles.

On first base, Morrison got the attention of third-base coach Joe Espada, urging him to wave Stanton in from second on a possible inning-ending ground ball. If necessary, Morrison was prepared to slide in hard on a middle infielder attempting to turn two.

"Knowing what was on the line for Henderson, I was just trying to do anything and everything I could," Morrison said. "I was telling Joe, 'On a double play ball, you've got to send [Stanton].' I'm going to take him out, and hopefully he makes a bad throw, or he has to eat it, and Stanton can score.

"Things you wouldn't do normally, you do. When you lose 100 games, no one is trying to take someone out, but if it means getting that guy a no-hitter, I'm going to do it."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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