Sandy Alcantara pitches a complete game against the Dodgers

MIAMI — In the top of the ninth inning Saturday, rival chants of “Let’s go Marlins” and “Let’s go Dodgers” echoed throughout loanDepot Park. Los Angeles had the bases loaded with two outs against Miami ace Sandy Alcantara, who was pitching his fourth complete game of the season in front of a crowd of 23,543.

Alcantara, who took the mound looking to prove he was officially off the mound after allowing a season-high six runs to the Dodgers in Los Angeles in his previous start, did what he has proven capable of time and again this season. He delivered.

The righty induced a ground ball to first baseman Lewin Díaz, who made a nice play and threw the ball to Alcantara covering first. Alcantara struck out Joey Gallo for the final out, sealing his fourth complete game of 2022 as the Marlins grabbed a 2-1 win for their ace, who remains the frontrunner in the National League Cy Young conversation.

Aside from a hit in the third inning when Alcantara allowed a solo homer to Mookie Betts, and that trouble in the top of the ninth, fans were treated to none other than classic Sandy. Alcantara struck out 10 over nine innings, marking his fifth game in double figures. Throwing eight scoreless innings and allowing just one run on six hits in nine innings, Alcantara became the first player to throw four complete games in a season since Corey Kluber and Ervin Santana each threw five in 2017.

“Seeing what Sandy’s doing,” catcher Jacob Stallings said, “it’s really kind of an honor to be a part of what he’s doing. You haven’t seen anybody do what he’s doing right now, and I don’t know how many years , but complete games, going deep into games, shots on goal, losing counts early, it’s just special what he’s doing and it’s just fun to be a part of, for sure.”

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s witnessed Alcantara’s stuff that he’s having such an incredible season. When his teammates come to the ballpark on Sandy Days, they know they have a very good chance to win. This comes not only from Alcantara’s ability to get deep into plays, but also from his understanding of his arsenal and his ability to change on the fly.

In his previous outing, Sunday in LA, Alcantara and Stallings spotted the Dodgers taking advantage of his four-seam fastball. So the battery mates changed their game plan. On Saturday in Miami, they went with more sliders and changeups, utilizing Alcantara’s dynamic off-speed pitches to keep the Dodgers on top while avoiding serving up meatballs, which Alcantara admittedly rarely does.

Instead of throwing his slider and changeup 22.3 percent and 26.5 percent of the time (respectively), as is his custom, Alcantara threw the two off-speed offerings on a whopping 66 percent of his pitches Saturday. And they worked. The one time Alcantara missed a pitch was that third homer by Betts, a 91.8 mph slider that Alcantara was trying to get out but ended up in the middle of the infield.

After that, Alcantara hit Betts with his slider on each of Betts’ next two at-bats.

“Everybody wants to have your rematch,” Alcantara said. “I just wanted to put him away because he was hitting really well [off] me.”

“I think maybe we could have done a few things better here or there,” Dodgers third baseman Turner said. “But he’s really good for a reason. He is electric. He was sitting 99 for essentially the entire game. … He’s got good stuff — three pitches, four pitches with two fastballs. You have to cheat the cover.”

Turner was right — all four of Alcantara’s pitches averaged between 91.5 mph and 98.8 mph, with his two fastballs in the upper end of the zone and his two breaking pitches in the lower end. His four-strikeout, which he threw just 20 times of his 111 pitches Saturday, topped out at 100.7 mph.

But then again, that’s just Sandy.

“Unbelievable,” said right fielder Brian Anderson, who delivered the first of the Marlins’ two RBIs before he was ejected for arguing an out call. “He’s the best I’ve seen do it. It’s great to be able to play for him every fifth day. It’s an honor to go out there and see what he can do. And games like today, you think he can do that every single outing.”

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