Marlins even things up

Florida survives rally by Yankees to win, 4-3, in 12 innings in Game 4

Gonzalez hits homer in 12th

Clemens goes 7 innings in last start of career

`It was great,' he says

October 23, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - Florida Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez isn't out there because of his bat, but he delivered one of the biggest swings in franchise history last night to get his team even in the 99th World Series.

Gonzalez lined a full-count pitch over the left-field fence in the bottom of the 12th inning to give the Marlins a 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees and an opportunity to take control of the best-of-seven Fall Classic in Game 5 tonight at Pro Player Stadium.

It was the first postseason home run for the veteran infielder, whose struggles at the plate earlier in the postseason prompted speculation that he might lose his place in the starting lineup. He jumped on a fastball by Yankees reliever Jeff Weaver and hit a low line drive that barely left the ballpark.

"I hit the ball, and I said, `Get out, get out,' " Gonzalez said. "I thought it hit the wall, but the first base coach said, `You got it.' "

The Marlins rushed out of the dugout to greet Gonzalez at home plate. Now, they have a chance to take control of the best-of-seven Fall Classic tonight when young right-hander Brad Penny takes the mound against veteran left-hander David Wells in the final game in Florida.

"This win tonight certainly guarantees us of going back to New York," said Marlins manager Jack McKeon, "plus the fact that this is the first time that we've been in the playoffs where we've been 2-2."

The Marlins had to battle back from a 3-1 deficit in the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Marlins also fell behind the San Francisco Giants 1-0 in the NL Division Series before winning three straight games.

The Yankees are more used to playing ahead, but they'll have to bounce back tonight to avoid a very uncomfortable homecoming this weekend.

"That was what this is all about," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "You've got two great teams here, and you've seen some great baseball tonight."

The sellout crowd of 65,934 also saw a slice of history, when can't-miss Hall of Famer Roger Clemens took the mound for what presumably was the last start of his storied career.

He may show up in a relief appearance if the series goes seven games, but Game 4 figures to go down in history as The Rocket's final stop on the way to Cooperstown.

It wasn't a perfect evening. He gave up three runs in a rocky first inning and was outpitched by unheralded Marlins right-hander Carl Pavano. He was behind by two runs when he walked off the mound after the seventh, but pinch hitter Ruben Sierra took him off the hook with a two-out, two-run triple that tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning.

In a sense, it still was vintage Clemens, though it wasn't exactly the right vintage on this night. He pulled himself together after the early onslaught and worked effectively through the seventh to warrant a classy standing ovation from a crowd that was well aware of the magnitude of the moment.

"It was great," Clemens said. "At that point, everything seemed to really slow down and seemed a little bit in slow motion."

Hundreds of camera flashes went off each time he threw a two-strike pitch to Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo, who eventually took a called third strike for the final out of the seventh inning.

Clemens knew he was coming out of the game, since the Yankees were down by two runs and his place in the batting order came up first in the eighth. He doffed his cap to the crowd as he left the field, then came out for a sustained curtain call. Marlins catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who had faced Clemens so many times before jumping to the National League this year, applauded him from behind home plate.

"When you battle like I have over my career and you get the respect from your peers, that's all you can ask for," Clemens said. "I appreciate that a lot. It really shows, I think, that everybody understands what was going on after the fact and I think it shows that they love to compete, too."

Clemens acknowledged Rodriguez and tipped his hat to the Marlins' dugout.

"It was quite memorable for me," Torre said. "He just took it all in. I think all of us would like to be in his body and know what he felt like walking off the mound tonight, obviously proud of what he did and getting himself together tonight."

Clemens retired the first two batters he faced and appeared to be primed to deliver another typical overpowering performance, but he came unglued faster than a cheap pair of shoes. Five consecutive hits later, he was on the ropes and the Yankees had the normally invisible Weaver warming up in the bullpen.

Rodriguez got it started with one of those opposite-field singles that he employed so effectively to wear down the hard-throwers in the Cubs' rotation last week.

No big deal. Clemens just whistled a fastball under the chin of promising Marlins rookie Miguel Cabrera to let him know who was boss, and Cabrera was so intimidated that he fouled off a couple of 2-2 pitches and hit a line drive into the right-field seats for his first career World Series home run.

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