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Marlins Win on a Rocket

Gonzalez's stunning home run in the 12th gives Florida a 4-3 victory and evens the Series. Yankees rally to tie in the ninth, getting Clemens off the hook and taking away Pavano's win.

October 23, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Baseball does not permit you to choose heroes in advance. History is made in October, and the protagonists are wonderfully unpredictable.

Roger Clemens and Carl Pavano were the stars of Game 4 of the World Series on Wednesday, and the afterthoughts. The Florida Marlins roared back from the brink of elimination behind Alex Gonzalez and Braden Looper, the shortstop who appeared clueless at bat and the pitcher displaced from his closer role.

Gonzalez stunned the New York Yankees, hitting a 12th-inning walk-off home run that delivered a 4-3 victory to the Marlins and drove a crowd of 65,934 into delirium. After closer Ugueth Urbina coughed up a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning, former closer Looper inherited and cleaned up a bases-loaded mess in the 11th and earned the victory.

"Tell you what," Looper said, "it's the most exciting time I've ever had in baseball."

Clemens sparkled in the final scheduled start of his distinguished career, one that the Marlins ensured would extend to a return engagement at Yankee Stadium this weekend. Florida tied the series at two games apiece and turned it into a best-of-three -- and Clemens might pitch again, because New York Manager Joe Torre said he would be available in relief for a possible Game 7.

The Yankees had setup men available when they turned to Jeff Weaver, whom they had banished to the bullpen and designated for emergency use only. Weaver had not pitched in postseason play and had not appeared since Sept. 24.

Gonzalez led off the 12th, the closest thing to a pushover the Marlins could offer without using a pitcher at bat. As he stepped to the plate, his postseason batting average was .094, with one walk and 15 strikeouts in 53 at-bats.

He took a strike, two balls, another strike, then ball three. He fouled off two pitches. Then he turned on a fastball from Weaver, launching a line drive down the left-field line. He thought the ball would hit the wall, he said, until first base coach Perry Hill told him the ball had cleared it.

"I jump," Gonzalez said. "I feel so excited for that, to hit a home run in the World Series."

Gonzalez raised a fist and kept it aloft as he circled the bases. The Marlins rushed to home plate to greet him, sprinting in from the bench and bullpen. He tagged home plate, then disappeared into a sea of men in black.

Life isn't fair and baseball imitates life, and so the fates turned on Pavano. He pitched eight innings, walking none and giving up no extra-base hits. He threw as hard as 94 mph, right up there with the Rocket.

But victory would not be his. Pavano handed a 3-1 lead to Urbina in the ninth inning. With one out, Bernie Williams singled and Hideki Matsui walked. After a ground out, pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra tripled home the tying runs, and the game went into extra innings.

For Clemens, who gave up three runs in the first inning, memories would have to do in place of victory. Only once in major league history has a Hall of Famer made his final start in the World Series -- Sandy Koufax, with the Dodgers in 1966. But no one knew at the time, with an arthritic elbow forcing Koufax to retire that winter.

This time, everyone knew. The Yankees trailed by two runs in the seventh inning, with Clemens due up first in the eighth. He retired the first two batters, and Luis Castillo stepped to the plate.

The crowd, aware the Yankees would bat for him, recorded the moment for posterity, flashes coming from every direction, almost blindingly, turning night into day with each pitch.

Castillo took a ball, fouled off three, took ball two, fouled off two more. He took a called third strike, a fastball at 94 mph.

As Clemens walked off the mound, the crowd rewarded with him a standing ovation, long and loud. He removed his cap and waved it to the crowd, shook hands with teammates and coaches, hugged catcher Jorge Posada. The crowd continued to roar, longer and louder.

"I think we'd all like to be in his body to see what it felt like walking off the mound, maybe for the last time," Torre said.

Clemens emerged from the dugout and took a curtain call, saluting fans in every direction. As the Florida players stood on the top step of their dugout and applauded, Clemens graciously saluted the opposition too.

"I was very appreciative of that," Clemens said. "It just kind of hits you a little bit, everything that's happened over you career."

Legends do not grace the stage daily. Clemens failed to become the first 300-game winner to earn a World Series victory since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1926. Only one other 300-game winner appeared in the Series between then and now -- Steve Carlton, in 1983.

In the first inning of his final start, Clemens gave up a home run to Miguel Cabrera. When Clemens made his major league debut on May 15, 1984, Cabrera was a Venezuelan infant, 12 months and 27 days old.

Derrek Lee added an RBI single, and Clemens appeared to be in for a struggle.

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