For most of Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly's time playing first base for the New York Yankees, he never got a chance to savor clinching a playoff spot.
His only opportunity was in 1995 when the Yankees clinched the first American League wild card, and Mattingly was retired the following yearwhen New York began its run of four World Series titles in five seasons.
Over two decades after his only postseason berth as a Yankee, Mattingly gets a chance to watch the Marlins secure a postseason berth in the expanded field Friday night in the opener of a three-game series in New York.
The Marlins (29-28) own a magic number of two to secure their third playoff spot in franchise history and first since 2003. A Marlins win and a loss by the Philadelphia Phillies at Tampa Bay will give Mattingly a chance to enjoy clinching just like Rays manager Kevin Cash did Wednesday at Citi Field in New York against the Mets.
Even if the Marlins were surpassed by the Phillies for second place in the National League East, which includes a guaranteed playoff spot, Miami is tied for the sixth-best mark in the NL with the Cincinnati Reds. The Marlins are a half-game ahead of eighth-place San Francisco.
Miami is getting its first opportunity to clinch after withstanding a 99-minute rain delay before the first pitch and getting a 4-2 victory Thursday in Atlanta that snapped a four-game skid.
The Marlins are getting the chance to clinch in a year which they dealt with a significant coronavirus outbreak in the season's opening weeks, forcing them to use 61 players, including 37 pitchers.
"Nobody picked this club to be able to do anything this season, but we believed in ourselves," Mattingly said earlier this week. "It's easy to be proud of these guys, the way they have dealt with everything."
New York (32-25) enters Friday fifth in the AL and two games behind the Chicago White Sox. Finishing lower than fourth relegates the Yankees to playing strictly road games in the postseason, and it is possible they could wind up in eighth as they are two games in front of the Toronto Blue Jays (30-27) with three to play.
New York's seeding is less secure because of what unfolded this week. After winning 10 straight from Sept. 9-19, the Yankees have dropped four of five and scored just twice overall in their last two games in Buffalo against Toronto.
"We've got to get it rolling again, obviously, if we're going to get to where we want to go," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "I'm confident we can do it."
New York has won its last seven games at Yankee Stadium and scored 43 times in its final three games before going 3-4 on a seven-game trip that ended with Thursday's 4-1 loss.
"I'm concerned with the way we've played recently," outfielder Brett Gardner said. "Any time you're not playing your best baseball and the postseason is right around the corner, something needs to be corrected rather quickly."
Miami's Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12 ERA) will make his seventh start of the season. Alcantara missed a little over a month recovering from coronavirus and allowed eight runs (five earned) in his return Aug. 30, but since then he is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in four starts.
Alcantara last pitched in a 2-1 win over Washington on Sunday. He allowed one run on five hits in six innings.
J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25), who is pitching almost as well as Gerrit Cole of late, starts for the Yankees. He is coming off his best outing of the season when he scattered four hits and got nine strikeouts in eight scoreless innings on Saturday in Boston.
Happ has a 2.59 ERA over his last four starts and has 24 strikeouts in his last three outings. The veteran left-hander is 3-2 with a 3.97 ERA in 10 career appearances (seven starts) against the Marlins.
--Field Level Media