Get your NLDS championship gear
MIAMI -- Marlins manager Jack McKeon's decision to go with the rookie over the two-time All-Star may have been the 72-year-old's most significant move since taking over the team May 11.
Rookie Miguel Cabrera capped a four-hit performance with an RBI single in the eighth that generated two runs in the Marlins' 7-6 victory over the Giants on Saturday in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
A Division Series record crowd of 65,464 at Pro Player Stadium watched the Marlins move on to the Championship Series for the second time in the franchise's 11 seasons.
By winning three straight games, two emotionally draining at home, the Marlins took the series over the Giants, 3-1.
A critical managerial move by McKeon came in a meeting with his coaches a few hours before Saturday's game. Should Florida start Cabrera, who was 0-for-9 with five strikeouts or go with the veteran Mike Lowell at third?
"Yesterday, everybody wanted to make a big controversy because I started Mike," McKeon said through puffs of his cigar in a champagne-soaked Marlins' clubhouse. "I saw something the last couple of days that I felt [Cabrera] needed a day. In my opinion, I thought he was trying to do too much. As great as he is, and as good a player as he is, he was trying to carry the team. I figured, give him a day to step back.
"Plus, Mike is a special guy on this team. I needed to give him some at-bats because he's going to be a big factor down the road. I needed to get him in, and it was an ideal situation."
While McKeon was leaning toward going back to Cabrera, the final decision was made after consulting with the assistant coaches.
The Marlins let a 5-1 lead slip away, but won it in dramatic fashion when Cabrera singled off reliever Felix Rodriguez. With two outs, Ivan Rodriguez walked and Derrek Lee was hit by a pitch.
Cabrera's single to right drove in Rodriguez, and Lee also scored when right fielder Jose Cruz Jr.'s throw was knocked out of catcher Yorvit Torrealba's glove.
"Derrek Lee's hustle was a key play," said pitcher Brad Penny, who worked two-thirds of an inning of relief. "If Derrek doesn't score when the ball got away, we could still be playing."
Composed at age 20, Cabrera let loose an outburst of emotion, flailing his arms at third base.
"It's so exciting," he said. "The emotions. I've had a seven-RBI game in the minors. Nothing like this."
Facing elimination, the Giants didn't go quietly in the ninth. The heart-stopping series literally went down to a frantic play at the plate.
Neifi Perez led off with a double to right off closer Ugueth Urbina. J.T. Snow's RBI single pulled San Francisco within a run.
With two outs, Urbina hit Ray Durham with a pitch. With runners at first and second, the Marlins needed a play at the plate to preserve the win.
Jeffrey Hammonds' two-out single to left was fielded by veteran Jeff Conine, who made a one-hop throw to the plate. Rodriguez collected the hopper in plenty of time to tag out a charging Snow. Holding his ground, Rodriguez maintained possession on the collision.
| The kid glove treatment|
|There have been six previous postseason games in which both starters were rookies. All previous matchups were in the World Series, and the home team won them all.|
|Oct. 8, 1948
||WS Game 3, at Boston
||CLE 2, BOS 0
|Oct. 7, 1950
||WS Game 4, at New York
||NYY 5, PHI 2
||Bob J. Miller|
|Oct. 11, 1967
||WS Game 6, at Boston
||BOS 8, STL 4
|Oct. 23, 1981
||WS Game 3, at Los Angeles
||LA 5, NYY 4
|Oct. 12, 1983
||WS Game 2, at Baltimore
||BAL 4, PHI 1
||Charles L. Hudson|
|Oct. 22, 1997
||WS Game 4, at Cleveland
||CLE 10, FLA 3
|Oct. 4, 2003
||DS Game 4, at Florida
||FLA 7, SF 6
-- Source: Elias sports bureau
"Pudge was like the Rock of Gibraltar," McKeon said. "This series, he showed why he's a proven pro. He stepped up and took on the leadership role."
"This is unbelievable," Rodriguez said. "This is what I've waited for a long time, and there is nothing better. To be able to make plays like that last out, it's incredible. You want to make those kind of plays."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time any postseason series ended with the tying run being thrown out at the plate.
Carl Pavano pitched the eighth and got the win, while Felix Rodriguez suffered the loss.
The team's fifth starter, Pavano went 12-13 in the regular season. He stepped in a relief role for the postseason, and won his second game in the series.
"As happy as I am right now that we won, I have no emotions left in me to celebrate," Pavano said. "I love winning. I never loved winning as much we are now. But every win goes down to the last drop.
"Pudge is our leader. The catcher is usually your leader. We have the best leader. We have the best catcher, a Hall of Fame catcher. You couldn't ask for a better person to do the job. He's our captain. He stepped up, and he has shown no signs of slowing down. He's really showing the critics who questioned him in Spring Training. He's handled the pitchers and he's our leader."
For the first time since the 1997 World Series, when Florida's Tony Saunders faced Cleveland's Jaret Wright, two rookies started a postseason game.
Florida rookie Dontrelle Willis was 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA during the regular season while San Francisco's Jerome Williams went 7-5 and also garnered a 3.30 ERA. Neither rookie factored into the decision.
Willis gave up a run in the second inning on Torrealba's sacrifice fly to left. Marquis Grissom, who walked and went to third on Snow's single, scored.
But the Marlins tied it in the second when Cabrera scored on Rich Aurilia's error at short. Cabrera, who doubled, went to third on Juan Encarnacion's sacrifice bunt. Conine hit a hard grounder to Aurilia, who lost control trying to get it out of his glove. Conine was credited with an RBI.
The Marlins scored twice in the third on Rodriguez's run-scoring double and Lee's RBI single, resulting in the Giants lifting Williams for reliever Jim Brower.
Cabrera's two-run, broken-bat single in the fourth gave the Marlins a 5-1 lead.
Willis and Cabrera started the season as teammates at Double-A Carolina. On Saturday, they were both instrumental in the Marlins moving on to the Championship Series.
Cabrera's four-hit performance featured two doubles, three RBIs and a run scored.
His ability to come through in the clutch marveled the man he replaced Saturday.
"To be able to step up from Double-A and are doing it here is very surprising," Lowell said. "But when you're 16 and 20 teams are offering you close to $2 million (what Cabrera signed for four years ago), they saw something. He's a strong kid. He's a big kid. He knows how to play the game. All those combinations help him do what he's doing. He's not intimidated. He's played so much baseball since he was so young."
While the Marlins enjoyed a four-run cushion, they stranded runners in scoring position in each of the first six innings. In the fifth, Willis collected his third straight hit, a triple to center that required the 21-year-old to slide head first into third base.
The scoring chance was wasted when Juan Pierre flew out to left.
Willis became the first rookie ever to have three hits in a postseason game. The last pitcher to collect three hits in the playoffs was Orel Hershiser with the Dodgers in Game 2 of the 1988 World Series against the A's.
The triple left the 21-year-old from Alameda, Calif., winded, and may have taken its toll in the sixth. The Giants rallied for four runs in the inning, tying the game at 5-5. Willis got into immediate trouble, allowing a leadoff single to Durham. Hammonds singled and Aurilia laced an RBI double down the third-base line. With runners at second and third, Willis pitched to Barry Bonds with first base open. Bonds' sacrifice fly to left scored Hammonds.
Edgardo Alfonzo's RBI double pulled the Giants within 5-4, and led to Willis being replaced by Penny. Making his first relief appearance since 2000, Penny gave up a two-out RBI single to Snow.
"If I have to do it again, I'll do it again," Willis said of taking third despite third base coach Ozzie Guillen signaling for him to stop at second. "I was thinking three the whole time. I'm just trying to go out there and play. They went out there and got hits. I might have been huffing and puffing. But that's no excuse. I'm not going to say they got hits because I may have been huffing and puffing."
Willis' hustle typified the effort by the Marlins, who have had to battle all season. When McKeon became manager, they were 16-22 on May 11 and fell to 19-29 on May 22.
Now, as pitcher Josh Beckett hollered to Lee in the clubhouse after the game, "We're going to the 'Ship, D. We're going to the 'Ship."
The Championship Series, that is.
"We're not done yet," said McKeon, while turning away from reporters.
After a short pause, the sagely manager added: "But it gets a little tougher up the road."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.