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Missed opportunities prove costly
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10/11/2003  2:10 AM ET 
Missed opportunities prove costly
Marlins leave 12 runners on base in Game 3
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The Marlins look on in disappointment at the end of Game 3. (Alan Diaz/AP)
MIAMI -- The Marlins knocked out a personal nemesis they previously couldn't even ruffle. They wiped out a late-game deficit against a pitcher that had owned them.

But ultimately it wasn't about chasing Kerry Wood, but about winning Game 3 of the National Championship Series.

That, the Marlins didn't do, falling to the Cubs, 5-4, in 11 innings at Pro Player Stadium.

"Losses are empty," Jeff Conine said, dismissing any morale boost from having scored three times as many runs in 6 2/3 innings off Wood as Florida had all season.

"We've got to forget about this one and come back tomorrow."

What the Marlins most have to forget are the lost opportunities to put Friday night's game beyond a pair of comebacks by the Cubs themselves.

Both teams left 12 men on base, but the Marlins did so in bunches. They also left seven of them in scoring position.

The minimized second-inning opportunity was one thing. Alex Gonzalez's two-out RBI double left men on second and third for pitcher Mike Redman, who grounded out to fall to 1-for-62 this year.

  Mark Redman   /   P
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: L/L

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But the Marlins had reason to expect more from the next squandered chance. Beginning with that comebacker from Redman, Wood had retired eight straight when he suddenly lost his bearings.

With two outs in the fifth, he walked the same non-threatening Redman. A single by Juan Pierre and another walk to Luis Castillo followed, bringing up Ivan Rodriguez.

Three pitches, all strikes, later, the threat was over.

"We had our chances. It was just a great game," Rodriguez said. "They came back, we came back. Just a great Major League game."

The irony was that, two innings after leaving those three men on base, Pudge did come up with the big hit that knocked out Wood, an opposite-field field single that gave the Marlins a 3-2 lead.

    Ivan Rodriguez  /  C
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 218
Bats/Throws: R/R

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After the Cubs erased that on Randall Simon's two-run homer, the Marlins had another bases-loaded opportunity with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

It was a situation to relish for pinch-hitter Mike Mordecai. He didn't give himself much of a chance to soak it in -- picking on Joe Borowski's first pitch and flying out to center.

Long after, the development still nagged at Mordecai. Not for swinging at that pitch -- but for not doing more with it.

"They know I'm a first-pitch fastball hitter," said Mordecai. "And I've played with Joe before [in 1996-97 in Atlanta], so he knows what kind of a hitter I am. I knew I wouldn't see a first-pitch fastball.

"So I was looking for something soft, which I've been working on in batting practice to keep it in the middle of the field. And Mike Lowell told me that's what he threw him when he was up there [in the previous inning].

    Mike Lowell   /   3B
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 215
Bats/Throws: R/R

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"I know I'm no Mike Lowell, but I was still looking for something soft. And I got it. I just didn't get on top of it."

Those were the last baserunners the Marlins saw, until the kooky end to the kooky night.

"We had chances. We battled back, they battled back. It was a heck of a game," said Conine, who singled in the second inning in his first-ever look at Wood.

"We fought back, and had the lead with their best pitcher going. And they wound up taking the lead back. In the end, they came back one more time than we did."

"We got to a great pitcher," said Derrek Lee, soon after hitting the fateful grounder off Mike Remlinger that ended the game. "But we don't care how we lose.

    Derrek Lee   /   1B
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 235
Bats/Throws: R/R

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"Yeah, we had him on the ropes, we had a couple of leads we couldn't hold onto. So it was one of those games. They kept battling back.

"They reminded me of us."

So there you have it: They look out on the field, and see their own reflections.

Actually, when they look out on this particular field, they usually see a game come to a weird end.

Before Friday night, the last play seen here was the Giants' J.T. Snow lying face-down on home plate after being tagged out by Rodriguez for the final out of the NLDS.

Now this, Castillo hung out to dry between second and third for the 33rd and final out.

"Reading all the articles that were being written," Florida manager Jack McKeon said, "I didn't know whether we should show up tonight."

They showed up, and showed Wood the door. A little more wood on the ball in a couple of key situations, and the Marlins would have a vise grip on this series.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.




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