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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Marlins, Rodriguez Get Drop on Giants

Florida wins, 4-3, on catcher's two-run single in 11th. Cruz's error fuels the rally.

October 04, 2003|Juan C. Rodriguez | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

MIAMI — Dirt obscured half of the last name across his back, rendering it unreadable to those in the distant reaches of the upper deck. None of the 61,488 fans at Pro Player Stadium on Friday had trouble reading the metallic writing across the front of Ivan Rodriguez's black Marlin jersey.

It never stopped sparkling.

When he rounded first in the 11th inning Friday and fell to his knees, fists raised in celebratory pose, the gleam was blinding.

A strike from defeat, Rodriguez singled home the tying and winning runs with one trademark opposite-field stroke, delivering to the Marlins a 4-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of a National League division series, before the fifth-largest crowd in franchise history.

A fly ball dropped by Giant right fielder Jose Cruz Jr. started the winning rally for the Marlins, who, if they win Game 4 today, will play for their second NL pennant in seven years. To avoid a decisive Game 5 Sunday in San Francisco, the Marlins must become only the second team this season to beat the Giants three times in a row with Barry Bonds in the lineup. And they will face Jason Schmidt, a Cy Young Award contender.

"I've been in the big leagues for 12 years and done a lot of good things," said Rodriguez, who spiked his helmet into the infield dirt after emerging from the elated pile of players. "Believe it or not, this is one of my best games in my career."

Rodriguez's two-run homer in the first off starter Kirk Rueter and his game-ending single off closer Tim Worrell served as bookends around the dramatic 4-hour 11-minute affair.

"He put us on his back," center fielder Juan Pierre said.

The last time the Marlins were in a postseason extra-inning game was Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, which they won on Edgar Renteria's two-out single in the 11th.

The similarities to that game do not end there. In 1997, the Marlins' decisive rally included an unthinkable defensive miscue. Like Cleveland Indian second baseman Tony Fernandez, who let a Craig Counsell grounder go through his legs, Cruz dropped a routine Jeff Conine fly ball to jump-start the comeback.

"I dropped it," Cruz said of his third error this season. "That's it.... It was a fly ball into my glove, and it fell out. I gave what I had and I didn't catch it."

Worrell didn't help the situation by walking Alex Gonzalez, who was prepared to give himself up with a sacrifice bunt to get the potential tying run to second. Miguel Cabrera followed and executed a sacrifice bunt, and the Giants intentionally walked Pierre to load the bases.

Luis Castillo hit a grounder that Worrell snared with his bare hand while sprawled on the mound. He composed himself in time to get the force at home.

Down 1-2 to Worrell, Rodriguez foul-tipped a pitch off the end of the bat before sending a single through the right side. Cruz's throw didn't come close to getting Pierre, who slid in head-first and sealed his team's 20th last at-bat win this season.

The Marlins had to regroup after watching the Giants score the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th. After reliever Braden Looper walked Rich Aurilia, Bonds hit a sharp ground ball up the middle that caught a piece of the mound. The resulting short-hop ate up Gonzalez, who was charged with an error. Edgardo Alfonzo dumped a Looper fastball into right to score Aurilia.

The teams combined to strand 30 runners (18 by the Giants), a division series single-game record.

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