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Ross Newhan ON BASEBALL

A Crash Course in Drama From the Fall Guys

October 05, 2003|Ross Newhan

When baseball's Super Saturday of four games and 10 hours of television and division series drama had ended, even the most jaded and bleary-eyed viewer would have to admit this was the October game at its best.

It was Pudge Rodriguez creating one pivotal collision at the plate and surviving another as the wild-card Florida Marlins -- resembling in their infectious aggressiveness and momentum the wild-card and World Series-winning Angels of 2002 -- defeated the self-immolating San Francisco Giants, 7-6, to advance to the National League championship series and send the losers into a winter of turnover that could surpass their extensive turnover of a year ago.

It was John Smoltz, still firing in the mid-90s but needing to catch his breath after every pitch to apparently ease the discomfort in his elbow, retiring Sammy Sosa, representing the tying run, on a drive to the center-field warning track for the final out of the Atlanta Braves' 6-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs, prolonging the agony for the Wrigley Field masochists and sending their series back to Atlanta for a climactic fifth game today.

It was Roger Clemens, at 41 and in what could be his final start, pumping his fist and verbally snapping at himself and taunting fans each time he left the mound while giving up five hits and one run in seven innings of the New York Yankees' 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins, who must win today to send the series back to New York for a Game 5 and whose challenge against the wealthy Yankees was reflected by their use of comparatively anonymous, minimum-wage pinch-hitters Mike Ryan and Lance Ford, both of whom struck out against the toying Clemens.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday October 06, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball -- San Francisco Giant pitcher Jerome Williams was misidentified as Jason Williams in a Sports article Sunday on the baseball playoffs.

It was Trot Nixon hitting a two-run homer in the 11th inning and Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson coming out of the beleaguered Boston bullpen to provide four shutout innings in relief of Derek Lowe as the Red Sox avoided a sweep and -- temporarily, at least -- eased the anxieties of their jittery nation with a 3-1 victory over the Oakland A's in which a controversial umpiring decision deprived the A's of one run and maybe more.

And now a Super Sunday of three more games?

Well, the Yankees and A's will be looking to close out the Twins and Red Sox short of a Game 5 while the Cubs and Braves are now there and can't go any farther.

Kerry Wood pitches for Chicago on full rest while Mike Hampton goes for Atlanta on three days' rest.

In the seven postseasons before this one, 35 pitchers started on three days' rest, with mostly dismal results.

The overall record was 6-17 with a 5.47 earned-run average.

The issue was a subplot on Super Saturday.

Russ Ortiz worked five decent innings on three days' rest for the Braves, putting them in position to keep their series alive, but Jason Schmidt, who had shut out the Marlins, 2-0, in Game 1 and who twice missed starts because of a tender elbow during the regular season, informed Giant Manager Felipe Alou he couldn't do it.

Rookie Jason Williams got the survival call and soon needed a bullpen bailout that merely greased the Giants' exit.

For San Francisco, which won 100 games in going wire to wire in the NL West after replacing four of last year's World Series regulars, the quick and stunning departure may represent a last hurrah for another core group.

Last year, the Giants had to replace four members of the World Series lineup.

Now?

Well, shortstop Rich Aurilia, catcher Benito Santiago, starter Sidney Ponson, closer Tim Worrell and reserves Andres Galarraga and Marvin Benard are all eligible for free agency.

The Giants hold a $6.85-million option on first baseman J.T. Snow and are not expected to exercise it. The Giants are also unlikely to pick up the mutual options on right fielder Jose Cruz Jr. and reliever Felix Rodriguez.

This was no way to say goodbye.

The Giants simply self-destructed after winning Game 1 behind Schmidt's shutout and taking a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning of Game 2.

The Marlins, of course, had baseball's best record after falling 10 games under .500 in mid-May and dusted their wild-card competition in September.

Their gritty comeback against the Giants may not have been a total surprise, but the help they got from their generous opponent was.

The Giants set a franchise record for highest fielding percentage and fewest errors in the regular season but made seven errors in four games with the Marlins.

Cruz, whom Alou considers a Gold Glove right fielder, slipped and fell in pursuit of Juan Pierre's fly ball that became a two-run double and the decisive hit in Game 2, and he dropped Jeff Conine's fly ball in the 11th inning of Game 3, the decisive miscue again.

In Game 4 Saturday, backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba either did not know where the ball went after Rodriguez dislodged it in a vicious eighth-inning collision or forgot that there was a runner coming behind Rodriguez.

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