Grand finale: Alvarez saves best for last
On the last day of the regular season, a 100-loss team went nuts on the field while a division winner slinked away.
A dude in batting gloves rushed from the on-deck circle to celebrate … his own no-hitter.
A no-hitter that was sealed, by the way, on a walk-off wild pitch.
A no-hitter that was thrown, for the record, by the guy who gave up the second-most hits in the American League last season.
Baseball, you strange and beautiful beast, you've done it again.
If fans were distracted by that three-headed monster sorting itself out in the AL Wild Card race or the final farewell to Mo Rivera or the fight for home field in the National League or Nationals manager Davey Johnson's last game or, well, pretty much anything on the Sunday slate that they didn't pay much mind to Marlins-Tigers on Sunday, let's be honest: It was understandable.
That's where the beauty of ball comes in play, though, because a game that had absolutely no October bearing quickly became the most gripping thing going on, all thanks to Henderson Alvarez.
The Tigers had the AL Central locked up and were merely playing out the string. The Fish were fresh off reshuffling their front office, focused on the future.
And then, out of nowhere came this no-no, with Alvarez, a guy who missed the first half of the season with a shoulder injury, becoming the Bizarro Bob Feller. In possibly the strangest fashion you could imagine.
For nine innings, he tied those Tigers' bats up in knots. The game certainly had a bit of that "last day of Spring Training" feel to it, what with the Tigers fielding a lineup without Miguel Cabrera or Torii Hunter or Victor Martinez or Austin Jackson or Alex Avila. Prince Fielder had but two plate appearances, and Justin Verlander, now 0-for-26 in his career, had two of his own.
But the results counted, and with each passing inning, it became a bit more real. Alvarez, the 23-year-old Venezuelan acquired in that massive Marlins trade with the Blue Jays last winter, was breezing through that depleted Detroit lineup. And save for hitting Fielder with a pitch in the first and watching Jose Iglesias reach on a fielding error in the fifth, he made this a remarkably efficient job, needing just 76 pitches to get through seven innings, 86 through eight. As has been the case often since his July 4 return from the disabled list, he was limiting the deep fly balls that used to plague him in Toronto. This was Alvarez, who had an encouraging second half on the whole, at his absolute best.
Only one problem: The Marlins weren't scoring.
Well, this wasn't terribly surprising, was it? After all, the Marlins averaged just 3.18 runs per game this season. That's the worst such mark in the Majors this season and the lowest in the bigs in three seasons. Facing Verlander wasn't helping matters.
So Alvarez cruised through the sixth, striking out Verlander, getting Don Kelly to pop out and Andy Dirks to ground out. And the Marlins didn't respond.
Alvarez cruised through the seventh, striking out Matt Tuiasosopo and retiring Jhonny Peralta and Hernan Perez on fly balls. And the Marlins didn't respond.
Alvarez cruised through the eighth, getting Brayan Pena and Nick Castellanos to ground out and Ramon Santiago to look at strike three. And the Marlins didn't respond.
It was mesmerizing, really. Here was the seminal moment in Alvarez's young career, and he was in danger of getting Harvey Haddixed.
In the ninth, Alvarez made it look easy again. Tigers manager Jim Leyland sent Avila up to pinch-hit, and Alvarez got him to ground out on an 0-1 sinker. Kelly swung at a first-pitch sinker, scorching it back up the middle, and Alvarez made an athletic play to nab it and throw to first for the second out. And when Alvarez used that 95-mph sinker again -- this time in a full count -- to get Tuiasosopo to go down swinging, he pumped his fist and raised his arms in triumph.
Yep. He forgot the Marlins hadn't scored yet.
But that wouldn't be the most absurd moment of this delightfully absurd accomplishment. The bottom of the ninth was baseball at its bizarre best.
On the split-screen television feed, with Luke Putkonen on the mound and one out, they showed Alvarez watching Giancarlo Stanton up to bat, silently begging, praying Stanton would unleash one of those 500-foot bombs. Stanton did the next best thing, lining a single to center to ignite the inning.
Logan Morrison followed by ripping a single of his own to center to move Stanton to second. With Adeiny Hechavarria batting, Putkonen uncorked a wild pitch that allowed both runners to advance. Hechavarria grounded to short, and Stanton froze at third. The out was made at first, and you wondered if Stanton's baserunning decision would come back to haunt Alvarez. But then Chris Coghlan drew a walk to load the bases, and the stage was set.
Alvarez put on his gloves and headed to the on-deck circle, which was absurd in its own right, because with two outs and the bases loaded, there was no way he was going to come to the plate in this inning.
But the final layer of lunacy was delivered when Putkonen threw another wild pitch, Stanton scoring safely and madness erupting in Miami. It was the fifth no-hitter thrown by a Marlins pitcher. It was the 239th thrown in the modern era.
We can safely say, though, that there has never been another one like this.