The Miami Marlins punched their ticket to MLB's postseason on Friday -- exactly four years to the day after one of the saddest episodes in recent pro sports memory.
The Marlins clinched a playoff spot with a 4-3 win over the Yankees in New York, sealing an improbable turnaround a year after Miami lost 105 games, and only weeks after the team was decimated by a coronavirus outbreak.
Friday also marked the four-year anniversary of the death of budding superstar ace Jose Fernandez, who perished in a 2016 boat crash that shocked the sports world.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who starred first as a Yankees player and captain before a long stint on Joe Torre's coaching staff, was notably emotional in the moments after his team extended its season into October.
"Jose, you know, four years ago -- what we've been through -- and then to do this on his day?" Mattingly said, choking back tears. "What a feeling. Not to mention what these guys have been through, what we've been through as a group and an organization the last couple years. Fighting back and kind of getting beat up last year, and these guys have been believing in themselves."
Shortstop Miguel Rojas said he was overwhelmed, and thanked the players who were called up to fill in after 18 Marlins players tested positive for coronavirus earlier this summer.
“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”
Mattingly credited his players for keeping the faith.
“I think this is a good lesson for everyone," he said. "It really goes back to the players believing."
The jubilant scene for the Marlins reminded some of the second of their two World Series titles, which they stunningly claimed at Yankee Stadium in 2003 after disposing of the Bombers in six games.
Marlins CEO and Yankees legend Derek Jeter, who was on the wrong side of the '03 World Series, reportedly made the rounds to thank and congratulate the people in the organization:
Fernandez and two friends died in a boat crash off Miami in the early hours of Sept. 25, 2016. The 24-year-old right-hander had emerged as one of the game's best young pitchers, owning a 2.58 ERA in 471 1/3 career innings. An investigation revealed Fernandez had alcohol and cocaine in his system, and was piloting the vessel when it crashed into a jetty.
The Marlins played the Mets in the first game after Fernandez's death, an emotional affair filled with tributes. Former Marlin Dee Gordon cracked a homer in the Marlins' first at-bat in the bottom half of the first.