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Nice article on Pudge and the start of the year

Ramp

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credit: sunsentinel.com
He can still hit. He can still run. Ivan Rodriguez can still pounce on a ball in front of home plate, as he did Thursday afternoon, and still amaze teammates by turning a sure hit into a laughably easy out, as he did to Philadelphia's smooth-running Marlon Byrd.

"Did you see that arm?'' manager Jeff Torborg asked.

"His footwork and balance getting to that ball is what was unbelievable,'' third baseman Mike Lowell said.

And that wasn't even his play that broke open the season's first win. That was his triple. That drove in two runs. That underlined the bat speed, foot speed and undeniable, word-of-mouth speed that took Rodriguez from a baseball question mark before this season-opening series to a double-exclamation point after it.

Go ahead, tap the brakes of caution. That's necessary. Say it was just one series, just three games, just the start of a long march. That has to be done.

But forgive the Marlins for hoping they caught a break, for a change. Forgive them for watching Rodriguez's 5-for-11 hitting against Philadelphia, with five RBI, and thinking they outspent the rest of baseball, for once.

The Marlins' $10 Million Man had the kind of series that had people talking and the franchise brass bearing gifts afterward. As Rodriguez sat at his locker, team owner Jeffrey Loria patted him on the back and handed over Monday's Opening Day lineup card, with Rodriguez's name highlighted in yellow.

"Thought you might want this,'' Loria said.

"Thanks, that's great,'' Rodriguez said.

He had a two-run homer that first game. He had two more hits and another RBI the second game. And Thursday he brought what Torborg called, "the whole package we were hoping that we were getting."

Hit. Run. Field. Ignite a rally. Snuff a threat. Get fans to jump from their seats on the seventh-inning triple and then again for the ninth-inning play against Byrd. (And here's some stop-the-presses fans news: The Marlins pitiful crowds are way up. After three games last year, the Marlins had 33,765 fans. After these three, the total was 62,256.)

But.

There's always a "but" this early, and it came in the strangest of ways for Rodriguez. He had three passed balls. That's more than he has had in three of the previous four seasons. Three. That's absurd. And that's overlooking what was ruled a wild pitch in Thursday's game that cost a ninth-inning run.

"This is the first time I've played in this stadium,'' he said. "I've got a little trouble, up high, seeing the ball here for some reason. But [as] we continue playing the games here, I'll get used to it. It won't be a problem."

Also, since we're keeping full score, Rodriguez made a costly base-running error in the second game, failing to tag up from third on a line drive and costing the Marlins a run. A base-running error. Passed balls. These are correctable details. They in no way get in the way of projecting what his first series could mean.

Take the triple.

A 3-2 game. One out. Marlins runners were on second and third. Philadelphia manager Admin Bowa elected to keep left-handed Rheal Cormier in to face the right-handed-hitting Rodriguez.

"I was surprised Bowa stayed with him,'' Rodriguez said.

Two balls. Two strikes.

"Last year, we struggled in that exact situation,'' Torborg said. "We'd get there and strike out. We left so many people on striking out. But [Rodriguez] got two strikes on him, climbed on the plate and stayed right on the ball."

He lined the ball into the left-center gap. And took off. As much as the hit, the legs were a sight to see.

"From the moment I saw the ball go all the way into the wall, I thought I could get a triple,'' he said. "That's my way I play. I'm aggressive. I'm going to play that way every day."

As long as he's healthy, that is.

"I'm 100 percent healthy,'' he said.

No back problems?

"I feel great,'' he said.

The opening series didn't go as planned for the Marlins. They lost the first two games to poor fielding or pitching -- which are considered their strengths. They won Thursday with power -- which is a weakness. Maybe this shows a problem in their blueprint.

But the Marlins' constant in each game was Rodriguez. He was a factor. He hit. He ran. He had the kind of game people wondered if he had anymore. It suggests the Marlins might have caught a break, for a change.

Dave Hyde can be reached at dhyde@sun-sentinel.com.
 

orisha

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nice article, and i agree with him. i think if rodriguez stays healthy he'll hit around 330 with over 25 homers and around 120 rbi's. this team can use that.
 

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