Jeff Conine has been there since the beginning for the Florida Marlins.
Now, he's one win away from the World Series."It's neat for me because I was on the ground floor when no one thought this team was going to win for a long time," said Conine, who delivered a tie-breaking RBI single in the seventh inning Sunday to help Florida beat the Atlanta Braves 2-1 in Game 5 of the NL championship series.
Conine went 4-for-4 in Florida's first game in 1993, but until this season he never played on a team with a winning record.
"To see it go from that point to now is extra special," he said. "I've seen a lot of names come through the locker room. But I knew we had a chance to achieve something special with this team."
The Marlins captured the wild card with 92 victories, swept San Francisco in the division series and hold a 3-2 lead over the Braves heading into Tuesday's Game 6 in Atlanta.
Conine's single was one of only five Florida hits, and it stopped an 0-for-13 slide in the NLCS. He said to "look at the crowd going crazy was one of my best moments in baseball."
BOBBY OH, NO MORE: Bobby Bonilla will never be mistaken for Mr. October. Maybe now, though, he won't have to answer so many questions about his lack of post-season success.
Bonilla broke out of a 1-for-15 slump in this NLCS by going 3-for-3. He drove in Florida's first run and scored the winning run on Jeff Conine's single.
Bonilla came into the game with a .189 average in 29 postseason games, including 1-for-20 for Baltimore against the New York Yankees in last year's AL championship series.
"I haven't had much success in the championship series in the past, and this one wasn't going too well either," Bonilla said. "Since so many people have brought it to my attention, I figured something had to go my way."
DAN WHO: Don Sutton may be part of the Atlanta Braves broadcast team, but he made a trip to the Florida clubhouse Sunday after the Marlins won Game 5 of the NL championship series 2-1.
Sutton wanted to congratulate Marlins catcher Charles Johnson on his pitch calling with rookie Livan Hernandez on the mound. The right-hander threw a three-hitter, striking out an NLCS record 15.
"That was one of the best-called games I ever saw," Sutton told Johnson. "Right now, Dan Marino is the second-best quarterback in Miami."
In the eighth, Kenny Lofton learned why Johnson is regarded as the best defensive catcher in the league. The speedy outfielder reached on a two-out walk and decided to test Johnson's arm, hopeful of getting into scoring position with the Braves trailing by a run.
But a perfect throw nailed the first Atlanta runner to attempt to steal on Johnson in this series.
"I just tried to make best throw I could," Johnson said. "When I let it go, I thought it was going to be close."
The Marlins take Johnson's defensive skills for granted. He didn't make an error during the regular season.
"They haven't tried to run," Bobby Bonilla said of the Braves, "because C.J. will shut down a running game. He did that in the eighth inning in a big way."
RYNO'S BACK: The Braves have remained relatively healthy throughout the NLCS, in striking contrast to the Marlins.
The Braves' most serious injury was suffered by Ryan Klesko, who jammed his left wrist and shoulder when he tumbled to the warning track Friday night trying to make a catch.
Klesko sat out Game 4 Saturday - when left-hander Al Leiter started for the Marlins - but the left-handed outfielder was back in the Atlanta lineup Sunday with right-hander Livan Hernandez on the mound for Florida.
"It feels a little bit better," Klesko said. "The shoulder's sore. The wrist is sore. But at least I can hit the cutoff man."
Klesko went 0-for-3 and struck out twice against Hernandez.
SMALLER STADIUM: The Marlins, who set attendance records in the first two games at Pro Player Stadium, had a smaller turnout for the final South Florida contest of the series.
Several sections in the right-field upper deck were once again covered with tarps to reflect the crowd of 51,982 - down from 54,890 the previous night.
Still, manager Jim Leyland said the Marlins were thankful for the fan support they've received this season - and especially wanted to win their final home game of the NLCS.