In this season-ending column, I'll put a wrap on the World Series. Next week, I'll look ahead to the offseason.
First things first: Congratulations to the Florida Marlins for their 4-2 Series victory over the New York Yankees. The Marlins won the world championship the old-fashioned way -- with good hard work and great team play. Everyone put their egos aside and did what was best for the team. Even when pitchers were removed from the rotation or skipped, they didn't complain but waited for their next turn and then did a fantastic job.
Most of the credit for the Marlins' success in the playoffs goes to manager Jack McKeon.
During the season, many factors contributed to Florida's turnaround: the call-ups of starter Dontrelle Willis and slugger Miguel Cabrera, the trade for reliever Ugueth Urbina, the presence of catcher Ivan Rodriguez (an offseason free-agent signing) -- as well as the hiring of McKeon to replace Jeff Torborg, who was fired in early May.
McKeon: The Right Stuff
While all these elements weaved together to shape Florida's successful regular-season run to the NL wild card, McKeon made all the difference in the postseason.
I recently read a quote from legendary manager Casey Stengel to the effect that most games are lost, not won. If that's the case, McKeon didn't lose a single game in the postseason. He made all the right moves.
McKeon's biggest postseason move was bringing in starter Josh Beckett for four innings of one-hit, one-run relief in Florida's 9-6 win in NLCS Game 7. Beckett pitched on just two days' rest after throwing a 4-0, two-hit shutout in Game 5.
In Game 7, the Cubs were hitting starter Mark Redman well and had taken a 5-3 lead in the third inning. But McKeon brought Penny in for a scoreless fourth inning, followed by Beckett. Urbina closed the deal with a perfect ninth.
Another of McKeon's great moves was to bring Beckett back (on three days' rest) to pitch Game 6 of the World Series. The decision went against the percentages, because pitchers starting on three days' rest in the postseason have a history of struggling. Many observers thought it was the wrong move, but McKeon went with his gut instincts (and his hot pitcher) -- and it worked.
Yet another effective move by McKeon was having Penny start Florida's 3-2 win in Game 1 in Yankee Stadium. Remember, McKeon had skipped Penny's turn in NLCS Game 6, so his decision instilled confidence in Penny, who proceeded to win Game 5.
All of McKeon's playoff decisions translated into a world championship for the Marlins.
Torre: Right Moves Despite Loss
In contrast, Joe Torre was criticized for using reliever Jeff Weaver in extra innings in Game 4 after Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez won it 5-4 with a 12th-inning home run. Some questioned why closer Mariano Rivera didn't appear in that game, even though he pitched two innings the day before. But I honestly don't fault Torre for using Weaver or for leaving Rivera in the bullpen in that situation.
Both the Marlins and Yankees lacked strong setup relievers, which made this extra-inning scenario an even match. But if you look at this closely, you'll see that Torre made the right decisions regarding his use of Rivera. Ideally, Torre would have liked to use Rivera more, and for good reason -- in my mind, he's the best postseason closer of all time.
Rivera only pitched in Games 3 and 6 (one save, four scoreless innings). And, on the surface, I can understand why some so-called experts might question why. But, for several reasons, I believe Torre utilized Rivera exactly the right way and at all the right times.
First, Game 3 was the only save situation for the Yankees in the entire series. In the other games, the Yankees never held a late-inning lead -- except, of course, for their 6-1 win in Game 2, when Andy Pettitte was one out from a shutout before an error by third baseman Aaron Boone led to an unearned run.
Second, the Yankees had a 2-1 series lead at the time Weaver pitched. If Torre pitches Rivera in extra innings instead of Weaver -- say, for two innings -- what does he do when he has the lead the next day and needs a save? You don't expend all your resources in a tie game in extra innings when you're on the road and you have the lead in the series.
I would rather take the chance of using Weaver in extra innings in Game 4 than of using another setup man the next day to get to a weary Rivera in the ninth.
Again, this is with the Yankees holding a 2-1 series lead. If the Marlins had a 2-1 lead or if the series were tied 2-2, I would bring Rivera in instead of Weaver (and I believe Torre would have as well). So, to me, Torre's decisions weren't wrong -- it's just that his personnel wasn't quite up to the task.
Further, someone might ask, why not use Chris Hammond instead of Weaver? The bottom line is that Weaver was on New York's postseason roster for a reason, and Torre thought he could get the job done. Hammond ended up pitching two innings in relief the next day (in Game 5), giving up two unearned runs on Enrique Wilson's rundown error in what turned out to be a 6-4 New York loss.
In Game 6, the Yankees were losing 2-0 but Torre still brought Rivera in for the final two innings -- which was the right move because New York was trailing the series 3-2.
For all of Torre's moves that have worked the past eight postseasons, his Weaver decision didn't. It happens.
One (Minor) Question for Torre...
The one place where I'd question Torre is the change he made in the batting order, dropping Jason Giambi from third to sixth. Giambi sat out Game 5 with a sore leg, but he hit a pinch-hit home run in the loss.
In Game 6, he returned to the lineup, but in the No. 6 spot. Even though Giambi was struggling average-wise (.237 in the postseason), the threat of him in the third spot is always huge. And, counting the ALCS, he'd hit four home runs in New York's previous seven games.
I thought it was a good idea to bench Soriano in Game 5. I don't know if was right or wrong, but it was a good idea at the time because of how New York's leadoff man was struggling. Soriano struck out 26 times in 71 postseason at-bats with a .225 average and .267 OBP. Similarly, my opinion about Giambi batting sixth doesn't mean that I'm right and Torre was wrong -- it's just my opinion.
The Yankees' pitchers showed up big-time this year in the postseason (2.73 ERA, including 2.13 in the World Series). After a poor performance in last year's ALDS vs. the Anaheim Angels, New York's starters came through.
But Yankee hitters didn't come through often enough in the clutch or in the close games during the Series (at one point, they were 7-for-42 with runners in scoring position). Starter Andy Pettitte allowed just one earned run in 15-2/3 innings but still lost one of his Series starts (Game 6). The more the Series wore on, the more I realized that Yankee hitters were having trouble with Florida's power pitchers who throw low-to-mid-90s heat (Penny, Beckett and Pavano). Too often, Yankee batters had 2-0 counts, where they could look dead red for a fastball, but they swung late and fouled it off the other way.
In my mind, there are more power-pitching starters in the National League. In general, the best American League starters rely more on curveballs, splitters, sinkers and changeups (though there are some hard-throwing AL closers, like Anaheim's Troy Percival). So the Yankees might have been taken aback by Florida's three flamethrowers.
The bottom line is that, to win a World Series, you need to take advantage of scoring opportunities at every turn. New York didn't. Florida did, and thus the Marlins won their second World Series in their 11-year history. As for the Yankees, they'll need to wait till next year for another chance at winning their 27th Series overall.
Chat Reminder: I'll answer your questions in an ESPN.com chat Friday at 10:45 a.m. ET.
An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back World Series and MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76.