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Dodgers come through in clutch
10/09/2004 10:21 PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- When it came to must time for the Dodgers on Saturday against the Cardinals, it was once again Steve Finley on the line.

The 39-year-old left-handed swinging center fielder again came through in the clutch, breaking his bat on a bases-loaded grounder down the third-base line with two out in the third inning, scoring the Dodgers' first two runs of Game 3. The Dodgers won, 4-0, as Shawn Green capitalized on Finley's heroics by hitting solo homers in the fourth and sixth innings, giving him a Dodgers record three homers in a first-round series.

Green, who also homered on Thursday, is the first Dodgers slugger to hit homers in consecutive NLDS at-bats since Eric Karros accomplished the feat in Game 2 of the 1995 three-game sweep by the Reds.

"The way things are looking right now, [Finley's at-bat] was the turning point of the series," said Dodgers manager Jim Tracy, whose club trails 2-1 in the best-of-five series with Game 4 back at Dodger Stadium at 5:10 p.m. PT on Sunday. "That's the key. I talked about it after the first two games -- our inability to get a base hit with two outs. Tonight we got one."

It was a crucial juncture for the boys in blue, who dropped the first two games to the Cardinals in St. Louis by identical scores of 8-3. Facing elimination as day turned into evening, they turned again to the guy who helped win the National League West title only a week ago right here in Chavez Ravine.

Finley's walk-off grand slam against Giants left-hander Wayne Franklin on Oct. 2 capped a seven-run ninth-inning rally to send the Dodgers to the playoffs for the first time since 1996, and set off a wild celebration at Dodger Stadium.

Finley was a July 31 acquisition from Arizona, where he played on the Diamondbacks team that defeated the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. Finley was also a member of the San Diego Padres, who were swept by the Yankees in the 1998 World Series.

Finley said that all the playoff experience -- 42 games now in 10 postseason series -- prepared him for this particular October.

"It helps because it makes me feel more relaxed," said Finley, whose first postseason series was a first-round sweep of the Padres by St. Louis. "My first postseason I was a little nervous. I didn't know what to expect. But it's still the same game. You're a little more focused every single pitch, every single at-bat. It's heightened awareness, if that's what you want to call it."

Saturday night, when the Dodgers needed a hit, it was Finley to the rescue.

The Dodgers loaded the bases against Cardinals right-hander Matt Morris on a controversial call. With runners on first and second, pitcher Jose Lima dropped a bunt down in front of the plate that was fielded on one hop by catcher Mike Matheny, who threw the ball to second. Matheny's throw wasn't in time as Brent Mayne slid in safely.

Television replays seemed to show that Lima's bunt bounced off the dirt in front of the plate and ricocheted back off his bat and perhaps his foot. The Cardinals argued that it should have been called an out.

"From my vantage point, most of the guys in the dugout thought the ball had made contact with the bunter, so it's an out," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "That's what I went out and said that I saw."

But after the four infield umpires consulted, they let the play stand.

"I didn't think it [hit him]. I didn't think it did at all," Tracy said.

Morris dug in and got Cesar Izturis on a short pop to left field. Jayson Werth then popped foul to the catcher, bringing Finley to the plate.

Finley had been 0-for-9 with a walk in the series, including a fly out to center field with the bases loaded and two out in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium this past Thursday night in Game 2 against reliever Cal Eldred.

"I felt in St. Louis that I had some good swings, but I just didn't get any results," Finley said. "I've learned in this game that you can't harp on an at-bat you've already had. You've got to put it behind you and look toward the next one."

On Saturday, Finley fouled off the first pitch before splintering the barrel of his bat, grounding the ball past Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen, who was shaded toward second, giving Finley the line.

"The first pitch I missed, I think it was curve ball," he said. "I leapt up in the [strike] zone. At that point, I'm just trying to put something out there and give us a chance. He threw a cutter that kind of backed up a little bit, but it still got enough on the label to break my bat. I just had good placement on it."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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