- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

MIAMI — Ivan Rodriguez circled the bases pumping his fist, then pointed at the jubilant, towel-twirling crowd before he crossed the plate.

That was in the first inning after Rodriguez’s two-run homer. Nearly four hours later, he found himself in the middle of an even bigger celebration.

The catcher nicknamed “Pudge” lined a two-run single with two outs in the 11th inning yesterday to cap a comeback by the Florida Marlins, who beat San Francisco 4-3 and took a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five National League Division Series.

Squandered opportunities and a defensive blunder hurt the Giants, and Rodriguez did the rest. He even threw out a runner trying to steal third.

“Having that kind of game made me feel pretty good,” Rodriguez said. “It was one of the best games of my career.”

Edgardo Alfonzo’s RBI single in the top of the 11th put San Francisco ahead 3-2, but right fielder Jose Cruz Jr. dropped a routine fly to start Florida’s comeback. The Giants stranded a record 18 runners, including at least one in scoring position in each of the final seven innings.

With Barry Bonds and the defending NL champions on the brink of elimination, right-hander Jason Schmidt will probably start today on three days’ rest. He threw a three-hit shutout to beat the Marlins in Game1.

Rookie sensation Dontrelle Willis will pitch for Florida.

“We lost a game that we should have won,” Giants manager Felipe Alou said. “Against the wall — that’s where we are.”

After Rodriguez homered, the Marlins were shut out until Cruz gave them an opening in the 11th. He drifted toward the foul line, tried to make a one-handed catch of Jeff Conine’s fly and dropped the ball — to the surprise and delight of 61,488 fans.

“It was trailing away, but it was a ball I should have caught,” Cruz said. “I’ve never dropped one like that. It hit my glove and fell out. I should have caught it and I didn’t.”

Tim Worrell walked Alex Gonzalez. Miguel Cabrera sacrificed and Juan Pierre was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Luis Castillo grounded back to Worrell, who made a lunging, barehanded stop and forced Conine at the plate. But Rodriguez lined a 1-2 fastball for a hit to right field, and Cruz’s throw home was wide as Pierre slid in headfirst with the winning run.

“I didn’t get the job done,” Worrell said. “I left a fastball up, and he went with it.”

As the crowd celebrated, the Marlins poured out of the dugout to mob Rodriguez, a 10-time All-Star who joined Florida this season after 12 years with the Texas Rangers.

“He showed today why he’s a Hall of Famer,” teammate Derrek Lee said.

“He put us on his back,” Pierre said. “He came through for us big-time.”

The finish was reminiscent of the 1997 playoffs, when the Marlins twice beat San Francisco in their final at-bat.

“They’re a feisty young club,” Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia said. “They always play like they’ve got nothing to lose. They feel like they’re always in the game and they’re always going to win.”

San Francisco squandered chance after chance until the 11th, when Aurilia led off with a walk against Braden Looper. Bonds hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who mishandled the ball for the first error of the game, sending Aurilia to third.

Alfonzo then singled for his fourth hit, giving San Francisco the lead and improving his average in the series to .615 (8-for-13). But the Giants missed an opportunity to add more runs when J.T. Snow hit an inning-ending groundout with the bases loaded.

The return of postseason baseball to Miami after a six-year wait drew the Marlins’ largest home crowd since Game7 of the ‘97 World Series. The boisterous fans twirled souvenir towels, creating a remarkable spectacle in a stadium where empty seats are the more customary sight.

One of the biggest roars came when Rodriguez homered to put Florida ahead. Poor fielding by pitcher Mark Redman helped San Francisco rally to tie it in the sixth.

The Marlins almost managed to neutralize Bonds, who went 1-for-4 with an infield single and two intentional walks. He’s 2-for-7 in the series with seven walks.

With two outs and none on in the ninth, Bonds was intentionally walked for the fifth time in the series. He went to third on a single by Alfonzo, but Ugueth Urbina got Yorvit Torrealba on a flyball.

The Giants broke the division series record of 16 runners stranded, which they set in a 13-inning loss to the New York Mets in 2000.

After Castillo barely missed a rare home run when he doubled off the top of the high wall in left, Rodriguez pulled an 0-2 pitch for a homer estimated at 418 feet. That’s all the damage Florida did against Kirk Rueter, who gave up only two other hits before leaving for a pinch-hitter after five innings.

Aside from a wild throw by Redman in the Giants’ two-run sixth, Florida’s defense was typically stellar. Conine made a leaping catch at the left-field wall in the seventh to rob Aurilia of extra bases — and perhaps a homer. Two batters later, Rodriguez backhanded a pitch in the dirt and threw out Marquis Grissom trying to steal third.

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