10/07/2003 11:12 PM ET
Pudge gets Fish off the hook
Rodriguez sparks the Marlins with five RBIs in Game 1
Pudge's homer: 56K | 300K
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- How many times can one "washed up" catcher keep coming through with a big hit, keep putting an entire team on his strong back?
About as often, apparently, as a pumped Wrigley Field crowd can roar exuberantly one minute and fall into somber silence the next.
Both happened repeatedly Tuesday night in a pulsating Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, before the Marlins staggered out of Wrigleyville with a 9-8 victory.
Mike Lowell won it in the 11th. But Pudge Rodriguez again was the Marlins' lifeline.
Pudge stirred them to life in the third, his three-run smoke taking the first bite out of Carlos Zambrano's seemingly safe 4-0 lead.
In the ninth, Rodriguez's two-run single proved to be a pre-emptive strike against Sammy Sosa's two-run homer in the bottom of the inning, keeping the game tied for extra innings.
That's five RBIs, if you're keeping score. That's also a nice extension of Rodriguez's NLDS, in which he hit .353 with six RBIs and repeatedly got the Fish off the hook.
In other words, Pudge keeps making it look simple.
"But it's not easy," he said. "I just try to concentrate, have nice swings. Wait for my pitch, stay back, then just use the hands. That's what I did tonight."
With those hands, he stirred the Marlins awake from their slumber. A 4-0 hole is difficult to escape with little hits. So, with Juan Pierre on third and Luis Castillo on first with one out in the third, Rodriguez produced a big one, a no-doubt smash to left.
"Zambrano was tough early in the game," Rodriguez said, setting up the first of the Marlins' four homers -- double what they had in all of the NLDS. "He broke my bat (in the first) with a pitch up and in.
"That time, he threw a fastball down the middle and down, and I was able to hit it out of the park."
"This is a resilient club. The guys don't quit, they battled back," said Florida manager Jack McKeon. "Pudge came through again with the clutch homer."
To say Pudge shook up Zambrano is an understatement. Before the frame ended, Miguel Cabrera and Juan Encarnacion also took Zambrano deep -- a careful chap who this season allowed one homer every 24 innings.
This time, he allowed three in 1/3 of an inning.
No less important was Rodriguez's next stroke, the two-run single off Joe Borowski.
The teams had been in a tense 6-6 deadlock since the sixth, and Rodriguez's intuition told him even one run there could be a backbreaker. So with the bases loaded and one out, he just wanted to make sure to get something into the outfield.
"I just wanted to hit the ball out of the infield and bring one guy home," he said. "In that situation, I just wanted to put the ball in play."
After a fastball in on the hands and two fastballs away, Borowski tried a slider outside, which Pudge ripped just to the right of second base.
"It was a very tough pitch," he said, "but I was able to locate it pretty good between first and second. I wanted to bring one home. I got lucky enough to get two home."
So Rodriguez is well on his way to collecting something he may feel he is owed.
MLB hasn't yet established Most Valuable Awards for Division Series, hardware he doubtless would have earned last week. His campaign for NLCS MVP is under way.
As is the Marlins' quest for their second NL pennant in seven years.
"It's nice to start out with a win," Rodriguez said, in an admonishing tone that implied, "Hey, let's not yet get carried away."
"But tomorrow," Rodriguez continued, "we face another tough guy (Mark Prior). We basically have to try to do the same thing we did tonight -- keep our concentration."
In a game with a 9-8 final, any praise having to do with pitching may seem faint. But Rodriguez, that renowned handler of pitchers, did his part here, too.
After four first-inning runs depressed Josh Beckett, Pudge essentially snapped him out of it -- while being sensitive enough to not approach the young righty immediately after that inning.
"But after the second, he helped me focus," Beckett said. "He told me to try to do less, and it worked out."
"I just told him to stay focused, stay strong -- we'll get him the lead," Rodriguez said. "I told him to keep us in the game."
Beckett put up four zeroes after that harrowing game. Pudge got the Marlins back in the game, and Beckett did indeed keep them there. Hey, what are batterymates for?
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.