Brantly's homecoming brings moment to cherish
Rookie catcher blasts first career homer in Marlins' win at Dodger Stadium
LOS ANGELES -- The drive takes about 90 minutes in the best of conditions, but it surely flew by quickly on Sunday for a caravan of fans making the trip back home to Temecula and Murrieta, in Southwestern Riverside County, from Dodger Stadium.
Rob Brantly, the Marlins' 23-year-old catcher, had given his family members and friends a lot to talk about with a memorable performance in a 6-2 victory over the Dodgers in front of 41,907.
The highlight of Brantly's seventh start behind the plate for manager Ozzie Guillen was his two-run homer off veteran Aaron Harang in the fifth inning, the first blast of his Major League career.
It gave Miami a lead its bullpen would hold tenaciously behind starter Mark Buehrle, repeatedly frustrating comeback attempts by a Dodgers club fueled by a megadeal with the Red Sox over the weekend.
"When it left the bat, it felt really good," Brantly said of his drive into the pavilion in right-center. "I made sure to put my head down and start running. It didn't really sink in until I was around first. That was awesome. A fan threw it back -- that was even better."
The ball was in his locker and no doubt soon would be in a secure place in the family's possession.
"It was supposed to be backdoor cutter that stayed up," Harang said. "It was up a little bit, and it was the first pitch. He's another young, aggressive hitter."
Brantly also singled and was walked intentionally, a show of respect, while raising his average to .240 on the biggest day of his career.
Brantly went to Temecula Chaparral High School -- a program that produced Cardinals star Allen Craig -- and the University of California-Riverside.
Drafted by Detroit in the third round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2010, Brantly launched his professional career at Class A West Michigan that summer with a .255 average in 52 games.
Dividing 2011 between West Michigan and high Class A Lakeland, Brantly impressed scouts with his athleticism behind the plate and the life in his bat from the left side. The Tigers included the 6-foot-2, 205-pound athlete in a deal along with pitching prospects Jacob Turner and Brian Flynn when the Marlins parted with veteran pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante on July 23.
Brantly looked comfortable and confident in handling Buehrle and five relievers in Sunday's series finale.
The Dodgers executed a double steal in the first inning as Buehrle was focused on striking out Hanley Ramirez in a big spot. Two innings later, Nick Punto was credited with a steal when second baseman Donovan Solano was unable to handle a strong, accurate throw by Brantly that appeared to be in time for the out.
Buehrle and the Marlins' bullpen allowed 11 hits and issued six walks, but they were tough under pressure. The Dodgers were 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position, Brantly calling a total of 197 pitches on a long, draining afternoon.
"This kid is still young," Guillen said. "There's pressure it takes to play the game at the big league level. No doubt he's got a chance to be a big league player.
"The Dodgers can score 10 runs in a heartbeat. We attacked them pretty well."
Brantly was hitting .365 at Triple-A New Orleans when he was summoned by the Marlins on Aug. 13. He is in essence auditioning for increased playing time behind veteran John Buck with a Miami team that has been one of the Majors' most disappointing clubs with its 58-71 record.
"The more experience I get with each pitcher, it's going to help me in getting a feel for the staff," Brantly said. "It was great working with Buehrle. He works fast, and I actually like to work quick too. Going 5 1/3 [innings] with a guy like that, with his experience, has to be helpful.
"There's definitely a presence with him. He knows how to battle, how to keep his team in the game."
A trade early in any player's professional career can be unsettling, but Brantly said he has chosen to take it as a favorable sign that the Marlins wanted him.
"You've got to be optimistic about anything that happens," he said. "Be open to change and always take things in stride."
Brantly was an Angels fan growing up, attending games at Angel Stadium frequently. Dodger Stadium is a longer trek from Southwestern Riverside County -- not that his parents, sisters, brother-in-law, cousins and various Chaparral High School coaches and friends were complaining on Sunday.
"I felt so blessed I could come home and play well in front of all my friends and family," Brantly said. "It was a pretty awesome reception I got over there by the dugout after the game."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.