MIAMI — Soaked head to toe, Marlins catcher Nick Fortes sat down to discuss his first career walk-off homer. He also hoped Miami’s plane headed to St. Louis would have decent Wi-Fi to watch his alma mater, Ole Miss, capture its first national championship in the College World Series.
Fortes delivered the Marlins to a 3-2 victory over the NL-leading Mets on Sunday afternoon at loanDepot park, closing out a stretch of seven games in a 10-day span between the clubs. Miami won just two of them while playing without several key position players in both series.
“If they can win a national championship on the same day that I hit my first big league walk-off home run, that would be like full circle,” said Fortes, whom the Marlins selected in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB Draft. “It’s just so crazy.”
Moments after leaping second baseman Luis Guillorme robbed Jess Aguilar of a hit, Fortes stepped to the plate with the bases empty and two outs in the ninth against Adam Ottavino. He expected a sinker. Instead, he got a first-pitch slider. He figured he would get another one and planned to sit on it. It worked — despite the pitch being inside — with Fortes’ blast sailing a Statcast-projected 419 feet, well beyond the left-field wall.
“It’s pretty special,” said Fortes, who last had a walk-off homer for Double-A Pensacola in 2021. “Running around the bases felt like I was on cloud nine, and my parents were here to see it as well. It was pretty awesome. It was a moment I won’t forget.”
The walk-off heroics wouldn’t have been possible without Fortes’ growth behind the plate. During his first callup last September, Fortes committed an error, recorded four passed balls and had -1 Defensive Runs Saved in just 44 innings. Manager Don Mattingly knew Fortes was a hit-first catcher (he became the first player in club history to go deep in three of the first five games of his MLB career), but the Marlins were surprised by the defense because his Minor League numbers were good.
When constructing the Opening Day roster, Miami decided fellow rookie Payton Henry would serve as Jacob Stallings’ backup, sending Fortes to Triple-A Jacksonville. On May 27, the club recalled Fortes and optioned Henry. Through 96 2/3 innings, Fortes hasn’t committed an error or allowed a passed ball.
“It was like, ‘OK, was he nervous? Is it [because it’s his] first time in the big leagues?’ Things like that,” Mattingly said. “Spring was a little rough. obviously [he] was able to go down and catch a lot, but the blocking has been really, really good. And the game-calling’s getting better. He’s being more assertive within our staff. … You feel like he’s going to hit. He’s got a good swing and a good idea of what he wants to do up there.”
Sunday’s finale was the latest example of his growth, as Fortes helped Daniel Castano limit a loaded Mets lineup to two runs over seven innings. In the ninth, Fortes navigated Tanner Scott around a leadoff walk. With the go-ahead run 90 feet from home, he didn’t shy away from calling or blocking sliders, and Scott struck out James McCann to end the threat.
Stallings, the reigning Gold Glove-winning backstop the Marlins acquired in November, was in the opposing dugout when Fortes made his MLB debut last September. He remembers the rookie having to handle a wild Edward Cabrera.
“I don’t want to be overbearing by any means, but whenever he has a question, I think — and I hope — he’s comfortable enough to come up, and he has,” Stallings said. “He’s done a really nice job with that. He’s been catching Castano and Braxton [Garrett] a lot. He has history with those guys, so that helps, too. He’s an exceptional blocker. He’s worked really hard on receiving. He’s gotten a lot better at that, too. He’s just worked hard. He’s doing a really good job.”
Following the demotion out of spring camp, Fortes knew he had to focus on defense first because the hitting would come. With time, he has felt more comfortable, and it is paying off.
“I’d like to think it shows that I belong,” said Fortes, who is slashing .289/.386/.579 in 44 plate appearances. “I definitely feel like I belong. I feel like no moment’s too big. It’s just fun for me right now. This is the thing that brings me the most joy, is playing in the big leagues. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hopefully what I’m doing can prove that, because I feel good. I feel really good.”