Catcher has record 10 RBI in NLCS
CHICAGO -- Ivan Rodriguez sat home last winter, waiting for phone calls that never came. He was supposedly too old, too injury-prone for teams to risk the big money he wanted.
His hometown Florida Marlins finally took a chance on him, and he's been worth every penny. And then some.
Rodriguez was named MVP of the NL Championship Series on Wednesday night after driving in his NLCS-record 10th run and scoring twice as the Marlins advanced to the World Series with a 9-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 7.
The Marlins became only the sixth team to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the pennant.
It's the first trip to the World Series for the 10-time All Star, who was let go by Texas last year in a cost-cutting move. When Paul Bako hit a fly to left with two outs in the ninth, Rodriguez ran halfway to the mound, bending slightly at the waist as he watched the ball.
When it dropped into Jeff Conine's glove for the final out, Rodriguez hopped up and down and then ran to the mound, grabbing closer Ugueth Urbina in a bear hug. The rest of the Marlins rushed onto the field and tackled the two.
"I'm very happy for my team. Nobody expected us to be in the World Series," Rodriguez said. "There you go. We're going to be there in a couple days."
It's sweet redemption for Rodriguez, who toyed with the idea of playing overseas when he drew little interest as a free agent. He didn't sign with the Marlins until the end of January, just a few weeks before spring training.
Though the Marlins were young, Rodriguez made a bold prediction.
"When they signed me, when I did the press conference, I said this team would have enough talent to be in the playoffs," Rodriguez said the day before the NLCS began. "And look at where we are."
But they wouldn't be here without him. Rodriguez has at least one hit in each of the Marlins' 11 postseason games, and an RBI in nine of them.
His 10 RBI in the NLCS broke the record of nine set by San Francisco's Matt Williams in 1989. He has 16 RBI in the postseason, breaking the Florida franchise record of 15 set by Moises Alou in 1997, when the Marlins won the World Series.
He was huge behind the plate, too. In Game 4 of the division series against the San Francisco Giants, he stood his ground as J.T. Snow barreled over him trying to score the tying run in the ninth inning.
Snow knocked him over, but Rodriguez held onto the ball to get the out and preserve the win.
There were whispers last winter and early this season that Rodriguez wasn't a good fit for a young pitching staff, that he cared more about his personal stats than mentoring inexperienced pitchers.
But he's been a stabilizing force for the young Marlins, who showed the grit and determination of grizzled veterans in this playoff series. The Marlins won three straight elimination games in the NLCS, and it was Rodriguez who set the tone Wednesday night.
Kerry Wood had been dazzling in his Game 5 victory over Atlanta in the division series, but Rodriguez and the Marlins never let him get comfortable. Rodriguez worked him for a nine-pitch walk in the first inning. The next batter, Miguel Cabrera, followed with a three-run homer on a 1-2 pitch.
As Rodriguez rounded the bases, he raised his right arm in celebration.
He hit a run-scoring double that pulled the Marlins within a run. It was his 10th RBI of the series.
Rodriguez scored the go-ahead run two batters later. As he trotted home from first on Derrek Lee's single to center, he pumped his fist triumphantly.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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