What was initially a wet and rather dull Sunday afternoon at Dolphin Stadium turned into one filled with late-inning excitement. Unfortunately for Braves manager Bobby Cox, it wasn't his team that was delivering the final blow against a battered bullpen.
Throughout the first half of the season, Rafael Soriano has been the most dominant reliever in what has been a strong Braves relief corps. But the 10th inning of this eventful series finale won't be one that he'll remember fondly.
With runners at first and second and nobody out, Josh Willingham delivered a walk-off RBI single off Soriano that gave the Marlins a 6-5 win over the Braves, who had been in search of their first six-game winning streak of the season.
"Everybody's bullpen goes through something like that; nobody's perfect," a distraught Cox said. "But it's just the way the club battled back [that makes it so hard]."
Soriano has surrendered 13 runs this season, and this marked just the second one that came in a game that the Braves weren't leading by at least five runs. But the hard-throwing right-hander wasn't the lone culprit in this one. Just one inning earlier, Wickman squandered what proved to be a very short-lived lead.
After rookie infielder Yunel Escobar had given the Braves their first lead of the day with a two-out, two-run single in the ninth off Kevin Gregg, Wickman was summoned in from the bullpen to notch his 18th save. Instead, he found himself saddled with his fourth blown save of the season, two of which have come at Dolphin Stadium.
"I seem to pitch good against them when we are at home," said Wickman, who has held the Marlins scoreless in two home appearances and allowed them four earned runs in 2 2/3 innings at Dolphin Stadium this year.
Wickman definitely understands the fact that he pitches best against the Marlins whenever he doesn't have to face Miguel Olivo, who erased the Braves short-lived lead when he began the ninth with a homer that landed nearly in the same spot as the one he hit off the veteran closer in Saturday night's game.
Wickman, who was spared any sort of decision despite allowing three ninth-inning runs Saturday, says he attempted to throw another slider -- the same pitch he'd thrown Saturday night -- to Olivo.
"I tried burying it down and away and it ended up in the same exact location," said Wickman, who is well aware of the fact that Olivo has five hits, including two homers, in five career at-bats against him.
Wickman's first blown save this season came on April 25 at this same stadium. On that night, Olivo greeted him with a two-run double and then scored the winning run on a passed ball.
"I haven't had a guy rough me up all year like he has," Wickman said. "It's been a while. I think it's time to look at the drawing board."
After a one-hour, 29-minute rain delay in the middle of the fourth, both Cox and Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez had to go back to the drawing board. The shutout bids still in place for the starting pitchers, Buddy Carlyle and Dontrelle Willis, had been erased by the lengthy wait.
In place of Carlyle, who had limited the Marlins to one hit over three scoreless innings, Cox turned to Oscar Villarreal, who began the fourth inning with consecutive strikeouts and then surrendered three straight hits that led to three runs. The crushing blow came courtesy of the 0-2 hanging breaking ball that Jeremy Hermida drilled into the right field seats for a two-run homer.
"Oscar started out great, and he had Hermida everything but struck out," Cox said.
Villarreal would surrender two more singles in the sixth that led to the Marlins gaining a four-run lead. The Braves didn't truly make noise until the eighth, when they had the luxury of another assignment against Benitez, who had allowed them to construct their decisive five-run fifth Saturday night.
Benitez surrendered three straight hits, including a two-run Edgar Renteria single, before being lifted with nobody out in favor of Gregg, who after a walk to Chipper Jones thwarted the eighth-inning rally by inducing a double-play grounder off the bat of Andruw Jones, whose seventh-inning homer had given the Braves their first run of the afternoon.
Gregg retired the first two batters of the ninth to move to within an out of converting his 16th consecutive save opportunity. But he then issued consecutive walks to Brian McCann and Scott Thorman. Escobar then followed by directing a 3-2 delivery into right field for a two-run single.
"It was a dogfight," McCann said. "We went at them and they went at us. Unfortunately, we came up on the losing end."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less