10/12/2003 6:25 PM ET
Pudge does it all in Marlins' win
Peacekeeper, catcher, slugger all in a day's work
MIAMI -- In two hours and 42 minutes Sunday, Pudge Rodriguez managed to put in a pretty full day at the office at Pro Player Stadium. He hit his third home run of the postseason, handled a young pitcher through a two-hit shutout, and personally made sure there would be no bench-clearing incident in his ballpark.
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
"I have to do two jobs -- defense and offense," Rodriguez said after the Marlins' 4-0 victory over the Cubs forced a Game 6 in the National League Championship Series. "When I'm on defense, I'm trying to help Josh [Beckett] pitch a great game. I'm seeing the ball well on offense. A day like this means a lot to me because I know I am doing a job to help my team. It's a nice feeling to be able to produce."
Few baseball people counted on the kind of production Rodriguez has had in 2003. This has been a season -- and postseason -- to remember for a player who last winter was just hoping someone still wanted his services. And because this latest workday was so memorable, here is how it would read on a completed to-do list:
Action item No. 1: Prevent chaos 56K | 300K
With one out, Beckett fired a 98 mph fastball high-and-inside to Sammy Sosa, who hit the dirt and then sprung up angrily. Everyone who had just seen the ruckus a day earlier at Fenway Park might have seen a trend developing after watching Sosa's reaction here, but Rodriguez diffused the situation by clutching Sosa and talking to him in a way that few other catchers could -- cooling off the Cubs' slugger.
Rodriguez and Sosa go way back, and that probably was a good thing. They each came up within the Texas Rangers' farm system, and their paths crossed at minor league Spring Training camp at Port Charlotte, Fla., in 1989. They also are superstars from the Caribbean, Sosa from the Dominican Republic and Rodriguez from Puerto Rico, and they were shooting the breeze together beside the batting cage as the Marlins turned batting practice over to the Cubs earlier in the afternoon.
Sosa played only 25 games for Texas in 1989 as a rookie before his trade to the Chicago White Sox. For Rodriguez, 1989 marked his first professional baseball season, spent with the Rangers' Gastonia, N.C., affiliate. His debut with the parent Rangers came in 1991. Rodriguez said their friendship helped Sunday.
"Sammy and I have a good relationship," Rodriguez said. "He's a superstar, and he respects me and I respect him. Sammy's a great player, and I am sure that mutual respect helped in this situation. It was nothing, really. We were not trying to hit Sammy. He had an incident earlier in the year when he was hit in the head, and he got a little fire in him. I calmed him down and told him, 'I don't want to hurt you.' You have to pitch inside and make those pitches, to try to change the hitter's eye level."
Sosa had been hit in the head by Pittsburgh's Salomon Torres on April 20, a ball that shattered his helmet, and he also was beaned on Sept. 9 by Montreal's Zach Day. In this key at-bat Sunday, Beckett proceeded to challenge Sosa after the knockdown pitch -- hitting 100 mph on his fifth pitch in the sequence -- and retired him on a full-count changeup that Sosa looked at for strike three. Sosa returned to the bench without incident, Moises Alou was induced into a 6-3 groundout to end the inning, and then FOX television commentators chuckled as the camera spied Rodriguez casually eating a sandwich in the dugout in the bottom of the fourth.
This was Pudge's place. And this was a lunch break during a complete day on the job.
Sosa said of Rodriguez: "He was talking to me very nice. He told me that pitch wasn't intentional. I said, 'I understand but I've been hit in the head a couple times and I don't like it no more. That's got to stop.'" Asked if he thought Beckett was throwing at him, Sosa said, "I didn't really think about that, but what happened ... in the inning before and then going up there -- he probably wasn't doing that, but because of what happened before, that was my reaction. I don't have anything against anybody. But if I don't like something I'm going to let him know."
"He overreacted a lot," Beckett said after his triumphant afternoon. "I don't know really what else to say. I don't know what he was trying to do. ... I thought it was really stupid that we had to go through that."
Action item No. 2: Handle Beckett
After playing the peacekeeper, Rodriguez's workday just got better and better, and there were not a lot of meetings to muck it up. Beckett deserves the highest praise for his 11-strikeout, two-hit shutout, but that kind of effort by a young pitcher with your team's very season on the line must be credited at least somewhat to a savvy veteran behind the plate. Beckett had his best stuff ever, and it was up to Rodriguez to harness it.
"I just told him, don't try to do too much," Rodriguez said. "He pitched a great game, getting ahead of almost everyone. Josh mixed it up with the fastball and changeup. He was unbelievable. He was throwing 97-98 in the ninth, in that last at-bat by Sosa."
Action item No. 3: Add insurance runs 56K | 300K
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, the Marlins' lead was 2-0 and still appearing very tenuous. It was hard to say how long Beckett could keep this up. So there was Rodriguez, having watched Sosa tap harmlessly into a 5-3 groundout in the top of the inning, secure in knowing that job was done. Now it was up to him to ensure that Florida indeed would go back to Chicago. He jumped on an 0-1 pitch from reliever Dave Veres and hammered it 352 feet to left, giving his pitcher a 3-0 lead. Jeff Conine would add another longball in the eighth to finish the scoring ( 56K | 300K).
Rodriguez has hit safely in each of his nine playoff games as a Marlin and has driven in a run in seven of the games. He almost single-handedly eliminated the Giants in the NL Division Series, again doing it with offense and defense. Just like this game.
As Rodriguez rounded third base on his home run trot, he pointed in the general direction of the Cubs' dugout. Cubs manager Dusty Baker was asked later if he thought that had been a taunt. "No," Baker said, clearing up the non-issue. "He pointed up to the stands. Probably to his wife or somebody."
After completing his day by addressing seemingly every other media question around his locker in English and Spanish, Pudge Rodriguez's workday was complete. He checked out, and then headed for his ride away from the office, saying on the way out: "I said earlier that it's going to be a good series, and you see what I mean."
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.