SAN FRANCISCO — The Florida Marlins still are feeling their way around the postseason, because you can't learn everything in three games.
Or can you?
The fifth-year Marlins seemingly have enough of this figured out, defeating the San Francisco Giants, 6-2, on Friday night in Game 3 of this National League division series. The victory gave them a sweep of their hosts and vaulted them into the NL Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves.
As playoff history goes, you can't beat the Marlins' start.
"This is a great night for us and for our organization," Marlin Manager Jim Leyland said. "We won a couple of real dramatic games at home, and then we came out here and played a great team in front of a great crowd.
"I know that this must be a tough night for [the Giants], but this is what baseball is really all about."
Florida, which earned the wild-card berth and is making its first playoff appearance, opens the best-of-seven series against the two-time defending NL champion Braves on Tuesday at Turner Field. The Braves swept the Houston Astros in the other NL divisional series.
"We know they're a great team, but we believe in ourselves," Marlin third baseman Bobby Bonilla said. "I think we've proven what we can do."
The Marlins had a different hero in each game. They took a 2-0 series lead with dramatic, ninth-inning victories at Miami. On Friday, a 3Com Park crowd of 57,188 watched center fielder Devon White rescue the Marlins.
White came through with Florida trailing, 1-0, with two out in the top of the sixth inning. Batting eighth, the former Angel hit a grand slam to left field against San Francisco starter Wilson Alvarez (0-1) to give the Marlins a 4-1 lead, which they wouldn't surrender.
"That one was very sweet," White said of the third postseason homer in his career.
"I knew he had to come at me with a fastball and he did. It was big because we needed something right there--because [Alvarez] was throwing well. You can never plan those things, you're just happy when they happen. I'm definitely going to remember this one."
White's performance also overshadowed a two-homer game by Giant second baseman Jeff Kent. It was the first multi-homer game by a Giant in the playoffs since Will Clark hit two in Game 1 of the 1989 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs on Oct. 4.
The switch-hitting White, batting right-handed against the left-handed Alvarez, hit the homer on a 2-and-1 count. The clutch hit put a smile on White's face, demoralized the desperate Giants and sparked yet more celebrating in the Marlin dugout and back in South Florida. By now, Marlin fans need some rest.
"This is very special for everyone in South Florida," said Marlin starting pitcher and Miami native Alex Fernandez (1-0), who pitched seven strong innings.
"Everyone on our team has worked so hard to get to this point. It's just an unbelievable feeling."
White, an 11-year veteran, also had a single in four at-bats Friday after going hitless in seven previous at-bats in the series. His homer was the Marlins' third key, late-inning hit of the series.
Edgar Renteria's two-out, ninth-inning, bases-loaded single gave the Marlins a 2-1 victory in Game 1. Moises Alou's ninth-inning, run-scoring single was the difference in the Marlins' 7-6 victory in Game 2.
"That was the whole story of the series right there," said Giant Manager Dusty Baker, whose team won the NL West. "They kept getting all the clutch, two-out hits they needed.
"This is certainly demoralizing, but they were just the better team over the last three days."
Not that this game needed it, but more drama was provided because of the starters' history together. Alvarez and Fernandez were teammates for 5 1/2 seasons with the Chicago White Sox, forming their friendship while developing their skills at double-A Birmingham, Ala., in 1990.
They also first experienced the postseason together, pitching for Chicago in the 1993 American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Alvarez had a complete-game victory during the series and Fernandez was 0-2, although he had a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings.
Although happy for his success and his team's, Fernandez said he felt badly for Alvarez.
"I wished him well and I wanted him to have a good game," Fernandez said, "but there's no friendship when you cross the lines."
Atlanta has won four of the last five league championship series; Florida, runner-up to the Braves in the NL East, won the season series between the teams, 8-4.
The Marlins know what awaits.
"We've earned the right to play what I consider to be the best team in baseball for the last five or six years," Leyland said. "We'll see where it goes."
So far, it's going all right for the Marlins.