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FLA Wins series 3-1
100-61, 43-37 Away
6
Final
7
FloridaMarlinsFLA
91-71, 53-28 Home

Two home plate collisions go Marlins' way

MIAMI (AP) -- Ivan Rodriguez caught the throw from left field on
one hop, stepped in front of the plate and braced for a collision.

Bearing down on the Florida catcher was J.T. Snow, son of a
former NFL receiver. The ball, the game and a berth in the NL
championship series were in Rodriguez's hands -- and he refused to
let them slip away.

The 10-time All-Star's helmet and mask went flying, but he made
the tag for the final out, and the Marlins beat Barry Bonds and the
San Francisco Giants 7-6 Saturday, clinching their best-of-five
division series 3-1.

"It was a very tough play," Rodriguez said on the field as
teammates celebrated. "In that situation I'm just going to grab
that ball in my glove. I don't want to let that ball go out of my
glove."

He spoke while still clutching the ball.

With a typically dramatic victory, the wild-card Marlins moved
into the NL championship series to face either the Chicago Cubs or
Atlanta.

"This is a start," Rodriguez said. "We have a great team, and
I think we can go all the way."

Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins blew a 5-1 advantage before
rookie Miguel Cabrera helped them regain the lead in the eighth
with an RBI single.

Rodriguez scored the go-ahead run, jarring the ball loose from
catcher Yorvit Torrealba. When it scooted away, another run scored.

But the defending NL champion Giants weren't done. They scored
once in the ninth against closer Ugueth Urbina and had runners at
first and second with two out when Jeffrey Hammonds singled to
left.

A charging Jeff Conine fielded the ball on one bounce and threw
to Rodriguez. Snow bowled over the catcher nicknamed "Pudge," but
Rodriguez held the ball.

He rose and was tackled again by a jubilant Urbina as Marlins
mobbed each other, the scene accompanied by the roar of 65,464
fans, a record for a division series game.

During Rodriguez's 12 seasons with the Texas Rangers, they went
1-9 in playoff games, all against the New York Yankees. At 31, he
found a limited market as a free agent last winter and settled for
a one-year, $10 million contract with the Marlins.

The unlikely pairing is now a postseason sensation.

"This is what I've wanted for a long time," Rodriguez said.
"And there's nothing better than me getting the last out."

Rodriguez also picked Snow off first base in the sixth with the
game tied. He drove in all four Marlins runs and threw out a runner
in their 11-inning victory Friday.

"The guy does it all," said Giants reliever Felix Rodriguez
(no relation), who gave up Florida's two runs in the eighth.
"Pudge won both games by himself. If they don't have Pudge
Rodriguez, they probably don't have a chance. He's the best catcher
in baseball, and he made all the plays today."

It was a triumph tough to imagine when 72-year-old manager Jack
McKeon's team trailed 1-0 in the series and 4-1 in the fifth inning
of Game 2 -- or when Florida was 19-29 in May. But the resilient
Marlins will start the NLCS on the road Tuesday.

"They're just exciting guys to be around," McKeon said.
"They've got that fire in their eyes. They're never going to quit.
You're going to have to beat us."

With the victory, the Marlins saved themselves a long trip to
San Francisco for a decisive Game 5 Sunday. They've won all four
postseason series in franchise history, including the 1997 World
Series.

The NL West champion Giants, the first team to clinch a division
title this year, were the first to be eliminated.

"I'm proud of my guys," manager Felipe Alou said. "They
didn't give up when they were trailing by four runs. They didn't
give up when they were trailing by two runs in the ninth inning.
They made it tough for the Marlins. It wasn't meant to be."

The loss ended the latest bid for that elusive World Series ring
by Bonds, who went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly and an intentional
walk.

"See y'all in spring training," Bonds said in the somber
Giants clubhouse.

After hitting a record eight home runs in the postseason last
year, Bonds batted .222 in the series (2-for-9) with no homers, one
double, two RBI, three runs and eight walks, six intentional.

"I'm surely relieved," McKeon said. "You're managing against
one guy. You know every time he comes to bat he can beat you. I'll
be damned if I was going to let him beat me."

Carl Pavano pitched one scoreless inning for his second win in
the series and Urbina got a save. Felix Rodriguez took the loss.

With two out and runners on first and second in the Florida
eighth, Cabrera broke a 5-all tie with a single. It was his fourth
hit, tying a playoff record for a rookie.

Right fielder Jose Cruz Jr., the goat Friday for the Giants,
made a wide throw home as Rodriguez scored from second base. Derrek
Lee scored on Torrealba's error.

Cabrera also doubled twice and had a two-run single in the
fourth. McKeon, managing in the playoffs for the first time, opted
to start the youngster instead of All-Star third baseman Mike
Lowell, still not 100 percent after breaking his left hand in
August.

"Jack has the Midas touch," Lee said. "Everything he does
turns to gold."

Game notes
With two singles and a triple, Willis became the first
pitcher to get three hits in a postseason game since Los Angeles'
Orel Hershiser in the 1988 World Series. Willis' achievement was
the first by a rookie pitcher. ... Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval,
perhaps afflicted with pregame jitters, skipped several measures
when he performed the national anthem. ... The Marlins won for the
18th time in their past 21 home games. ... The Giants finished with
three consecutive losses, their longest losing streak since Aug.
12-17. ... Giants fell to 0-4 in playoff games at Miami. They also
lost twice there in 1997.