This Day In Marlins History: Florida ties 2003 World Series thanks to Gonzalez's walk-off in Game 4

Mike McGinnis

On this day in team history, the Marlins pulled out what was essentially a must win in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. Alex Gonzalez provided the dramatics with a walk-off homer in the 12th inning, giving Florida a 4-3 win over the Yankees.

In what was thought to be Roger Clemens' last career start, the Marlins desperately needed a Game 4 win to keep realistic hopes of a World Series title alive. On this date, October 22, 2003, Florida got just that, thanks to a walk-off home run from unlikely hero Alex Gonzalez in the bottom of the 12th inning.

The Yankees were the favorites heading into the 2003 Fall Classic, coming off a dramatic, seven-game victory over Boston in the ALCS. Winners of 101 games in the regular season--tied for most in baseball with the Braves--New York boasted an explosive offense (fifth in the majors in runs scored per game) and a quality pitching staff to match (4.02 team ERA, third in the AL and ninth overall). By comparison, the surprising Marlins were just average as far as stats went, ranking 17th and 11th in the majors in runs per game and team ERA, respectively. While Florida obviously showed it was a team to contend with by making it this far, the Yankees appeared set to win their 27th championship after winning Game 2 and Game 3 of the Series both by the score of 6-1, taking a 2-1 lead. The Marlins badly needed to win Game 4 at home; if they failed to do so, they would have to win three games in a row, two of them at Yankee Stadium, in order to win their second title in as many World Series appearances.

The main side story of Game 4 was that it was set to be all-time great Roger Clemens' last career appearance, with Clemens having announced earlier in the year that 2003 would be his last season. Clemens was solid in his 20th year, recording a 3.91 ERA in 33 starts; he had put up a 3.38 ERA in 16 innings and three starts in the postseason to that point as well. But the Marlins got to the legend right away. After the first two batters in the bottom of the first recorded outs, Ivan Rodriguez walked and 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera followed by launching a homer to right field on a 2-2 count (and he did so after Clemens threw high and inside to Cabrera earlier in the at-bat, trying to get him to back off the plate). Florida wasn't done--Jeff Conine, Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee hit back-to-back-to-back singles, the last of which scored a run and gave the Marlins a 3-0 lead after one. Clemens settled down after that, allowing just three baserunners over the next six innings. He struck out Luis Castillo to end the seventh, and after what appeared to be his last-ever pitch as a baseball player, the fans at Pro Player Stadium gave Clemens a standing ovation as he walked off the mound, and the Marlins players stood at the front of their dugout and clapped as well. (This scene is incredibly humorous in retrospect, given that Clemens went on to repeatedly come out of "retirement" and pitch four more seasons and that he became embroiled in PED allegations several years after this supposed final appearance.)

Despite a lesser pedigree, Florida starter Carl Pavano definitively out pitched the legend Clemens in Game 4. Making his eighth appearance in the playoffs but just his second start, Pavano allowed a bases-loaded sac fly to Aaron Boone in the top of the second but almost nothing else, facing the minimum in the fourth through the eighth innings. But Pavano said he had run out of gas at that point, prompting Jack McKeon to put in Ugueth Urbina in the ninth with Florida up 3-1. Urbina recorded two outs but also allowed two baserunners before Ruben Sierra stepped up to pinch hit. Sierra smacked a triple, and the game was tied.

New York had a runner in scoring position in the 10th and the bases loaded in the 11th but managed no runs each time, with closer Braden Looper working out of the jam in the latter inning. In the bottom of the 12th, in stepped No. 8 hitter Alex Gonzalez to lead off, he having gone 5-for-53 in the postseason. Naturally, Gonzalez lined a ball off the Yankees' Jeff Weaver just over the wall in left field, delivering the Marlins a dramatic 4-3 win and tying the World Series at two games apiece. Florida wouldn't lose again the rest of the way.

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