MIAMI -- Gary Sheffield skidded over the plate and into the arms of Jeff Conine. About 120 feet away, Moises Alou raised his arms in weary triumph between first and second base. From the dugout, the rest of the Marlins emerged, having to choose between the two celebrations.
Inside the belly of Pro Player Stadium, a small, balding man smiled so wide it looked like it might hurt. He hugged a Marlins employee and offered a fitting epitaph for this game.
"Is this fun," Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga said after the Marlins' heart-stopping, 7-6 victory yesterday in Game 2 of the Division Series, "or what?"
This much fun could be dangerous. For the second night in a row, the Marlins scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
"Me and Kevin Brown were talking," said gleeful Game 2 starter Al Leiter, who pitched four shaky innings but couldn't have cared less after the game. "We might need to play our next one a little differently. These are bad on the ol' ticker."
With their 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series, the Marlins need to win just one of three games at 3Com Park in San Francisco to advance to the National League Championship Series. Game 3 will be tomorrow.
After the Marlins blew a one-run lead in the top of the ninth, Sheffield led off the bottom of the inning with a sharp single to left off Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez, by the way, was on the mound -- but not the losing pitcher -- when the Marlins won Game 1 on Edgar Renteria's ninth-inning single.
After Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla walked on a 3-2 pitch to bring up Alou. Alou had been 0-for-8 and had stranded nine runners in the first two games.
Alou followed with a sharp single to center that scored Sheffield with the winning run -- with some luck.
Center fielder Dante Powell's throw looked to be on target, and maybe on time, but it bounced off the mound. Sheffield, who had frozen on Alou's hit for fear it might be caught, was able to score without a play.
Before the Marlins' heroics, two errors by their late-game defensive specialists helped closer Robb Nen blow his first career save opportunity in the playoffs.
Nen, who entered the ninth with a 6-5 lead, saw leadoff batter Darryl Hamilton reach on an error by first baseman Conine, who couldn't get the ball out of his glove for the flip to Nen covering the bag. Conine, who started the game for Darren Daulton because the Giants started left-hander Shawn Estes, normally replaces Daulton for defense late in games the Marlins are leading.
After Stan Javier dumped a broken-bat bloop single into shallow left, Nen struck out Jose Vizcaino, who was trying to bunt the runners to second and third. Barry Bonds then hit a possible double-play ball to Renteria at short, but Craig Counsell's throw from second to first was low and wide and eluded Conine.
Hamilton scored all the way from second on the play to tie the score at 6.
Counsell replaced Kurt Abbott -- for defense -- in the seventh.
The Giants' late rally denied Livan Hernandez his first playoff victory -- in his first appearance of the season from the bullpen. Hernandez came in for Leiter, who allowed four runs in four innings, and gave the Marlins four innings of one-run ball.
The Marlins were in position to win because of home runs from Bonilla and Sheffield. Bonilla's was a two-run shot in the first, and he added a run-scoring single in the third. Sheffield's was a bases-empty homer in the third. The Marlins' other runs came on Alex Arias' pinch single and Abbott's double-play grounder, both with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth.
Sheffield, who had doubled off the scoreboard in left in Game 1, cleared the scoreboard this time with a home run in the sixth for a 6-4 Florida lead. The home run was hit so hard, Bonds' only movement in left was a pivot of the hips, just to watch the ball go into the seats above the scoreboard.
Sheffield also had a dubious fielding play in the seventh inning to lead to a Giants run. Sheffield misjudged Vizcaino's sinking liner, and charged it too late to make a diving catch. Vizcaino was given a double, and scored when Bonds doubled off the 'D scoreboard to cut the Florida lead to 6-5. If Bonds' ball had gone another 10 feet left, it would have cleared the fence for a home run.
Leiter, who closed out the regular season strongly, had one of the worst outings of his career at Pro Player Stadium. He allowed a single run in each of his four innings, on seven hits and three walks. He threw a wild pitch that led to a run in the fourth, and gave up Brian Johnson's bases-empty home run in the third.
Fortunately for Leiter, and the Marlins, Giants starter Shawn Estes was even less successful. He allowed five runs in three innings.
Pub Date: 10/02/97