Young pitchers propel Marlins

10/16/2003 - Florida Marlins

CHICAGO -- The Florida Marlins wore black caps Wednesday,
befitting their role as spoilers against those lovable losers, the
Chicago Cubs.

But give the Marlins credit: For bad guys, they're pretty darned

And they're headed to the World Series, culminating a wild ride
for a team that began the season with few fans and modest

Josh Beckett, working on two days' rest after pitching a two-hit
shutout Sunday, came out of the bullpen to stymie Chicago again and
help Florida win 9-6 in Game 7 of the NL championship series.

"Nobody expected us to be in the playoffs, and look where we
are now," said Ivan Rodriguez, the series MVP. "That's the best
feeling -- for me, my team and the people of Florida."

Fans at Wrigley Field can blame the Cubs curse, a subpar showing
by Kerry Wood and the souvenir-seeking spectator, who some thought
played a role in his team's collapse in Game 6.

The Marlins and their 72-year-old manager, Jack McKeon, prefer
to think they were simply the better team. And they'll be a handful
in the World Series for the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, who
play the deciding game of the AL championship series Thursday

"The good Lord has been looking after us this whole month,"
McKeon said. "I thank God for the great bunch of players I have.
They don't quit. They love each other. I'm so happy for their sake
that they have an opportunity to go to the World Series."

In keeping with the way the Marlins won all season, they had
plenty of heroes responding to the winner-take-all pressure of Game

Beckett provided the biggest boost. Showing no signs of
weariness from throwing 115 pitches in Game 5, the right-hander
came on to start the fifth inning with the Marlins ahead only 6-5.
He pitched four innings and allowed just one baserunner -- on
pinch-hitter Troy O'Leary's home run.

"It's not that miraculous," Beckett said. "It was my bullpen
day. I probably threw a couple more pitches than I would have in my
bullpen. But that's what we needed to do to win, and it worked

One night after beating Cubs ace Mark Prior, the Marlins treated
Wood even more harshly. Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run homer and made
several fine catches in right field, a position he played for the
first time Saturday. Rodriguez scored twice and doubled home a run,
giving him 10 RBIs in the series, a record.

Even Derrek Lee and Alex Gonzalez, both batting below .150 in
the series, contributed run-scoring hits.

"Nobody thought in a million years we could come in here and
beat Prior and Wood," said Juan Pierre, who had two hits. "We
shocked the world."

Brad Penny, bumped from the rotation after a poor showing in
Game 2, pitched a perfect fourth after starter Mark Redman departed
trailing 5-3. Ugueth Urbina threw a hitless ninth for the save.

When Jeff Conine caught a flyball in left field for the final
out, the Marlins mobbed each other in jubilation as the crowd of
39,574 fell silent. Then came scattered boos -- likely for the Cubs
-- followed by polite applause -- likely for Florida.

The Marlins know they disappointed a lot of people by winning.
Pierre estimated "97 percent of the world" wanted the Cubs to

Chicago hasn't been to the World Series since 1945, but to see
the Marlins celebrate a pennant was almost as surprising. They
began the year with just one winning season in their tumultuous
10-year history, and they changed managers in May on the way to a
19-29 start.

But rookies Dontrelle Willis and Cabrera helped revitalize
baseball in South Florida, and the bandwagon grew rapidly during
their September surge to win the wild-card race.

The Marlins came from behind to eliminate NL West champion San
Francisco in the division series. Now they're only the sixth team
to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series.

"They refused to be put away," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
"When I talked to some of the Giants, the first thing they told me
was don't underestimate them. They've got a heck of a team. We
weren't underestimating them at all."

On Wednesday, the Marlins came from behind for the sixth time in
their seven playoff wins. They won for the third time in four games
at Wrigley Field. And this time they needed no help from any Cubs
fans, totaling eight hits and seven runs against a laboring Wood,
who threw 112 pitches in 5 2-3 innings.

The Marlins improved their all-time record in postseason series
to 5-0. They won the only other Game 7 they played in the 1997
World Series.

Now they're headed to Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park for another
Series beginning Saturday, and McKeon has the hunch a lot of fans
will cheer for the Marlins.

"The Cubs were always America's favorite," he said. "I think
we're the darlings of the baseball world now. I think we'll have
all those people rooting for us, because they're seeing an exciting
team play."