Marlins tag Giants out to advance, 7-6

Rodriguez holds on to ball after Conine's throw to deny S.F. in Game 4

First series to end that way

Rookies Cabrera, Willis join veteran duo to deal wild cards into NLCS

Division Series

October 05, 2003|By Juan C. Rodriguez | Juan C. Rodriguez,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

MIAMI - The replay ran multiple times from multiple angles on the Pro Player Stadium JumboTron. Here were the Florida Marlins, frolicking about in real time after eliminating the San Francisco Giants yesterday, and the largest crowd ever to attend a Division Series game couldn't take its collective eyes off the massive screens.

With each clip of J.T. Snow plowing through Ivan Rodriguez at the plate, 65,494 unbelieving spectators responded with louder awe.

They reacted to Rodriguez absorbing the blow and holding up the ball from under Ugueth Urbina's embrace for all to see. They reacted to the Marlins winning the best-of-five Division Series with a 7-6, Game 4 victory and sustaining their bid for another National League pennant.

"I said it from the time they gave me the opportunity to come to this team," said Rodriguez, whose wild-card Marlins will face the Chicago Cubs-Atlanta Braves survivor in the National League Championship Series. "This team was going to be in the playoffs and play well."

What may become the most replayed sequence in Marlins history next to Craig Counsell scoring the World Series-winning run culminated another muscle-contorting contest. In this one, 20-year-old rookie Miguel Cabrera went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and got the pivotal hit - at least the one involving a bat.

Having scored a quick run off Urbina in the ninth, the Giants had runners on first and second with two out for ex-Oriole Jeffrey Hammonds. His single to left sent Snow barreling from second, representing the tying run.

Snow took a wide turn at third, which helped Rodriguez have enough time to secure Jeff Conine's throw and brace himself for impact. The son of former NFL receiver Jack Snow, J.T. launched himself at Rodriguez, who was thrown back but never lost his vise grip on the ball.

For the first time in postseason history, a series ended with the potential tying run thrown out at the plate, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"In that situation I'm just going to grab that ball in my glove," Rodriguez said. "I don't want to let that ball go."

"You can't get any better than this," Conine said. "When you're in a situation like this, a crowd like this, and to come out and win a game like this is awesome. ... I knew I wasn't going to catch it, so I just tried to get it in my glove and make a good transfer on the way home."

Half an inning earlier, Rodriguez was on the other end of a collision at the plate. He took out Yorvit Torrealba on Cabrera's opposite-field, two-out single to right off Felix Rodriguez. Jose Cruz Jr.'s two-hop throw was up the third base line and arrived just before Ivan Rodriguez put a shoulder into his counterpart. The ball came dislodged, allowing Derrek Lee to score the winning run all the way from first on the play.

Getting the start a day after manager Jack McKeon sat him in place of Mike Lowell, Cabrera ripped Rodriguez's first pitch for the RBI knock.

"It's like a dream for me," said Cabrera, who made his major-league debut June 20. "I just wanted to put the ball in play."

Four innings earlier, Cabrera drove in two with a two-out single off Jim Brower, making it a 5-1 Marlins lead. He also doubled in his first two at-bats.

He wasn't the only Florida rookie to excel.

Left-hander Dontrelle Willis allowed but one run on one hit through five innings before fading in a four-run sixth. With two singles and a triple, he also became the first pitcher to get three hits in a postseason game since Orel Hershiser in the 1988 World Series and the first rookie pitcher ever.

In the sixth, four of the five batters Willis faced reached on base hits. The only one who didn't was Barry Bonds, who the Marlins did not intentionally walk despite the Giants having runners on second and third with no outs.

Willis got Bonds to lift an 0-1 offering into left for a sacrifice fly that made it a 5-3 game. Edgardo Alfonzo followed with a double, good for another run.

Making his first relief appearance since the 2000 season, Brad Penny got the second out before Snow hit a game-tying smash up the middle just beyond sliding shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

"It was a little quiet," Conine, an Oriole until Aug. 31, said of the Marlins' dugout after blowing the 5-1 lead. "Still, that's the defining characteristic of this team, to not ever give up. ... If you want to call it `destiny' that's great. I'm just glad to be part of it again."

As was Rodriguez. During his 12 seasons with the Texas Rangers, they went 1-9 in playoff games, all against the New York Yankees. At 31, he found a limited market as a free agent last winter, turning down the Orioles and settling for a one-year, $10 million contract with the Marlins.

The unlikely pairing is now a postseason sensation.

"This is what I've wanted for a long time," Rodriguez said. "And there's nothing better than me getting the last out."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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