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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Marlins Working, 9-5

Florida goes home happy after evening the series with a victory over the Giants. Pierre provides the spark with four hits and a key double. Ponson is unimpressive.

October 02, 2003|Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The calendar turned to October on Wednesday, but another record crowd of 43,766 at Pacific Bell Park would have sworn it was March.

The Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants took a page out of spring training in Game 2 of their National League division series, employing 14 pitchers, collecting 22 hits and producing some slapstick baserunning and fielding.

Ultimately, the gritty Marlins survived a poor start by Brad Penny and another harrowing afternoon of deciding whether to pitch to Barry Bonds before rebounding from Jason Schmidt's opening shutout to defeat the Giants, 9-5, and leave the sea gulls of McCovey Cove tied at a game apiece in the best-of-five series.

Now, in fact, it might be the wild-card Marlins who hold the home-field advantage with the next two games at Pro Player Stadium and more than 53,000 tickets having been sold for Friday's Game 3.

"You can't worry about home-field advantage," Bonds insisted. "If you can't win on the road you're not going to win anyway.

"If you can't play on the road you shouldn't be here."

Juan Pierre, the Marlins' leadoff batter who was handcuffed by Schmidt after collecting 204 hits during the regular season, led a 15-hit assault against Sidney Ponson and six San Francisco relievers with four hits and three runs.

His two-run double with the bases loaded in the sixth inning landed behind Jose Cruz Jr., who slipped and fell in the right-field corner, and that proved to be the decisive blow, breaking a 5-5 tie and putting the rallying Marlins ahead to stay.

"It's like a mud patch out there," the normally sure fielding Cruz said.

"It's real tough out there, but the bottom line is that they put pressure on us today, forced us to execute and we didn't respond."

Ponson certainly didn't.

The Giants acquired him at the trade deadline to perform on this stage and make a difference, but he was winless in his last four starts of the regular season, going 0-3 with a 5.63 earned-run average, and he was lifted after five innings of Game 2, having given up seven hits and four runs, including three that tied the score, 4-4, in the fifth.

The Giants routed the NL West with 100 wins and a pitching staff that was second in the league only to the Dodgers in ERA, but it's October now and the performance by Ponson compounded concern about the rotation beyond Schmidt.

Now, in fact, the San Francisco ace might be asked to come back on three days' rest in Game 4 Saturday if the Marlins push the Giants to the brink of elimination by beating the inconsistent Kirk Reuter in Game 3.

"Ponson was throwing pretty hard today," Pierre said, "but he wasn't on point as much as Schmidt was.

"Our mentality was to see more pitches, slow the game down and do a better job of putting good swings on the ball.

"I think they were confident they were going to get us again when they got ahead, 4-1, but we kept putting guys on and moving them around. We didn't just have one big inning, we had several, and that wears down a pitching staff."

The Marlins scored three runs in the fifth, three in the sixth, and solo runs in the seventh and eighth. Former Dodgers Todd Hollandsworth and Lenny Harris came off the bench to deliver important pinch hits.

"We've survived on emotion all year," Hollandsworth said. "I mean, I've never seen a team feed off each other like this one, and JP sets the tone."

He referred to Pierre, who was down after failing to reach base in Game 1 and got a pep talk from the 38-year-old Harris, the all-time pinch-hit leader now with his eighth major league team.

"I'm sort of the old man here," Harris said, "and I try to make up in leadership for what I can't do physically anymore. ...

"We know the Giants have a great team, that we can't make mistakes against them and that we have to stay with our small-ball style, but we're not afraid of them."

After Penny left with one out, the bases loaded and the Giants having regained a 5-4 lead in the fifth, displaced starter Carl Pavano showed no fear.

He got Edgardo Alfonzo and Benito Santiago to pop up, ending the threat and setting the tone for 4 2/3 innings of shutout relief by the Florida bullpen.

Included was an eighth-inning appearance by Dontrelle Willis, who warmed up at least three different times on a day he would normally throw in preparation for his Game 4 start and finally arrived to get Bonds on an inning-opening popup before he yielded a pair of singles and was excused.

Bonds had previously doubled in the Giants' first run in the first, drawn a four-pitch semi-intentional walk in the fourth (when Alfonzo followed with a two-run double) and been intentionally walked in the fifth.

He spoke softly and briefly to reporters later while sitting in his leather lounge chair and hunched in front of his private television, eventually summing up a sloppy afternoon by saying, "They played better, they won, that's the end of it. Go away."

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