10/15/2003 2:07 AM ET
Pudge continues MVP-like play
CHICAGO -- Just as the Florida Marlins have tied up the National League Championship Series and forced a Game 7 Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, the series' Most Valuable Player award that seemed so certain to go to Kenny Lofton now appears to be very much there for Ivan Rodriguez's taking.
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Rodriguez's remarkable rise from an offseason in which he found few free-agency takers continued here Tuesday night when he broke up Mark Prior's shutout and helped Florida's shocking eight-run eighth inning of Game 6. The Marlins' catcher has nine RBIs in this series, tying the NLCS record set by the Giants' Matt Williams in 1989. In addition, that two-run single extended his 2003 postseason hitting streak to 10 games.
"We don't give up, I guess," said Rodriguez, hitting .333 in the series. "We're just ready to play to the last out. That's what we've been doing all year. Playing the game hard. When you have a tough pitcher on the mound, like Prior today, you can't give up. You have to keep fighting. Sometimes, you get one inning that you take advantage."
Florida manager Jack McKeon has watched Rodriguez take advantage of crucial situations all season and especially in this October. Rodriguez hit .353 in the NL Division Series and beat the Giants with his bat and glove in those last two games; he had a home run in that third-inning comeback during their Game 1 victory at Wrigley; he chased Kerry Wood with an RBI single in a Game 3 loss; he had an RBI double off Kyle Farnsworth in a Game 4 loss; and in Game 5 he managed to defuse a potential incident by calming Sammy Sosa after a knockdown pitch, hit a home run and perfectly handled young pitcher Josh Beckett through a two-hit shutout.
Everywhere you look in this postseason, Pudge is there. Before last winter, he was routinely considered to be on a Hall of Fame track after an illustrious career with Texas. He took some knocks last winter, when few teams wanted his services, but what he is doing these days certainly has restored the luster.
Ironically, the Cubs were one of those few teams that took a hard look at him as a free agent before this season. General manager Jim Hendry said it "came down to a question of whether you want him as part of a few players to add, or whether you want to add eight or nine guys to your organization. We felt it was in our best interest to take the [latter] approach."
Jack McKeon is one person who could not be happier that the Cubs took a pass.
"Well, Pudge has been tremendous in the playoffs, really, in fact, all season," McKeon said. "But especially he has been the leader in the playoffs. ... Pudge has set the example there. He's knocked in the key runs. And he always seems to be tough in the clutch.
"I can see why in certain situations you'd want to walk him and not pitch to him, because he seems to be on a pretty good roll right now. He's seeing the ball very well. And he's been very productive. He's been a very, very important part of this club during the playoffs."
Rodriguez described the eighth inning of Game 6 as "unbelievable."
"Prior was throwing a great game," he said. "I don't know if he got tired in the eighth. He left a couple of balls over the plate. He left me a slider on 0-2 over the plate, and I hit it. Then we started from there. You have to play these games to the last inning hard.
"I got a good pitch and then [Cubs shortstop Alex] Gonzalez made an error. Then [Prior] came back and threw a fastball right over the plate to [Derrek] Lee. I think those were two pitches he didn't want right there. When he got me 0-2, what I was thinking was: 'Stay back, use my hands, and try to see the ball.' He was unhittable today. What I tried to do was put the ball in play, and I was lucky enough to hit the ball over the shortstop.
"Things started to change [on his hit]. It was just a completely different ballgame."
Now it is down to one ballgame, with one clear leading candidate from the Marlins who suddenly has entered the MVP picture.
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. Joe Frisaro contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.