MIAMI -- Josh Beckett was the lone Florida starting pitcher who could seemingly match up with his Yankees' counterparts in the World Series. The Yankees have Roger Clemens and David Wells, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina, but Beckett had been throwing better than any of them; he is to the Marlins what Pedro Martinez is to Boston.
But the Yankees employed their Pedro Martinez Rope-A-Dope in Game 3 of the World Series Tuesday. Mussina kept the game tied through seven innings, and when Beckett finally tired in the eighth, the Yankees slugged away at the Florida bullpen. Three batters after Beckett was replaced, Hideki Matsui singled off Dontrelle Willis to score Derek Jeter and break a 1-1 tie, and the Yankees added four runs in the ninth to beat the Marlins, 6-1.
Now the Yankees lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, and they won't have to deal with Beckett again until Game 7, if the World Series lasts that long. Clemens will make what is expected to be the last start of his 20-year career in Game 4 Wednesday, against Florida's Carl Pavano.
Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre watched Beckett in the first innings of Game 3 and thought: This is going to be rough for us. Beckett's fastball clocked at 98 mph at the outset, the ball quickly disappearing into the glove of Florida catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and then Beckett made Jason Giambi swing and miss at an 88 mph changeup that veered sharply. No one throws 88 mph changeups, except Josh Beckett in Game 3 of the World Series.
If the Yankees were going to win the game, Stottlemyre thought, they would have to win in the late innings, and the only way that would be possible was if Mussina could match Beckett -- in results, if not in raw stuff. But the Yankees fell behind immediately.
Juan Pierre led off the bottom of the first for the Marlins, facing the peculiar Yankees' defensive shift. Second baseman Alfonso Soriano played in, on the lip of the infield grass, while the corner infielders moved in and Jeter stayed on the dirt at shortstop.
Centerfield Bernie Williams shifted far to left-center, with right fielder Karim Garcia playing far off the line, toward the gap. Pierre lifted a high pop into short center field, and Williams seemingly raced miles in pursuit of the ball, Garcia ran over -- and slowed, anticipating Williams' arrival. But Williams could only try a diving catch, the hitting and then bouncing on the ground, a double.
Mussina got a couple of outs and it appeared he might pitch out of the jam, but Miguel Cabrera rolled a 350-hop single into right field, past Soriano, who was positioned near second base; Pierre raced home, giving the Marlins a 1-0 advantage. That was about all Mussina felt he could afford to give up, considering how Beckett was pitching.
The Florida right-hander mowed down the first nine Yankees, striking out three; he would finish with 10 whiffs, and allow only three hits. Mussina struck out and felt somewhat reassured that he could actually see the ball. "Beckett is not easy," Yankees manager Joe Torre said afterward. "We watched him on TV, and our scouts couldn't praise anybody higher than they praised him.
But the Yankees were patient with Beckett, the way they are always patient with Martinez, taking strikes, trying to work him deeper into counts -- and in the fourth inning, they benefited from a borderline ball-strike call.
One out into the fourth, Jeter pulled a double into the left field corner, and Jason Giambi coaxed a walk, taking a slider at the top of the strike zone for Ball 4; Jack McKeon, the Florida manager, shouted at home plate umpire Gary Darling in frustration.
Williams popped to short, the second out of the inning, and Hideki Matsui quickly fell behind in the count, 1-2. But Beckett -- intent throughout the fourth to establish his breaking ball -- spun a pitch down and in and hit Matsui, filling the bases.
Jorge Posada, arguably the Yankees' most disciplined hitter, began working his way back into the count after falling behind 1-2, taking a slider low, fouling off a 96-mph fastball, ignoring a 97-mph pitch that flew just a little high and outside. A full count.
Beckett reached back and poured a fastball down and in, near or at the knees, near or at the inside corner, possibly a borderline pitch, possibly a strike. Darling called it a ball: Posada walked, a run was forced home, and McKeon and the other Marlins were apoplectic in the Florida dugout. McKeon stood up, waving his arms, screaming, cursing.
After Beckett retired Garcia on a grounder to first, the Florida pitcher turned and glared at Darling, swearing loudly; Darling glared back. The game was tied, 1-1. "We thought they were strikes," McKeon said afterward. "Certainly high enough."
It began raining in the bottom of the fourth, and both teams played through the downpour that increased in intensity -- and after Mussina whiffed Beckett for the second out of the bottom of the fifth, the rain became a deluge, and the game was halted for 39 minutes. The delay was short enough that neither manager seriously considered using another pitcher, but more than three hours after they warmed up, both Beckett and Mussina were still pitching.
Ivan Rodriguez doubled off the left-field wall with one out in the sixth, and Cabrera singled to right, where Garcia charged the ball. Rodriguez rounded third and stopped, anticipating a throw home -- but Garcia fumbled the ball, and Rodriguez, in a state of flat-footed inertia, could not react quickly enough to go home.
Derrek Lee hit a grounder back toward the mound, and Mussina knocked it down and threw home to Posada, beginning a rundown that would end with Rodriguez being tagged out. Then Mussina struck out Mike Lowell, who angrily launched his bat into the air.
Beckett retired the Yankees quickly in the top of the seventh, striking out two batters, and Jeff Conine singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh for Florida. This was the rhythm of the game for three hours, Beckett stifling the Yankees, Mussina always having to fight through his innings.
Shortstop Alex Gonzalez tried bunting Conine to second and failed, eventually fouling out. Beckett did get down a sacrifice, moving Conine to second and creating a choice for Mussina. He could either pitch to the next hitter, Juan Pierre, 5-for-10 in the series, or go after Luis Castillo, who had looked helpless against Mussina's curveball.
Mussina chose to pitch to walk Pierre and focus on Castillo. "We thought we had something we could work with, and we came back to it," Mussina said.
So after throwing a first-pitch fastball to Castillo for a strike, Mussina spun curveballs near Castillo's feet, and the Marlins' veteran was helpless, striking out. Beckett was dominating, Mussina was hanging on. But the score was still 1-1.
McKeon said later that Beckett, in his fourth hour on the mound in the eighth, started to stiffen, and after Jeter slapped a double inside the first-base bag, down the right-field line, McKeon summoned Willis. There was one out, Giambi coming to bat. Willis walked Giambi, before Bernie Williams flied to center; Jeter tagged up and moved to third.
Willis, struggling to control his fastball, threw a fastball and Matsui slammed a single to left. Jeter raised a fist as he jogged home with the go-ahead run; the Yankees were off the ropes, swinging away, now that Beckett was out of the game.
Williams' 19th postseason homer pushed him past former Yankee greats Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson for the all-time postseason record.
Jackson, speaking on Wednesday morning's Mike & Mike show on ESPN radio, noted that Williams has had more chances in the postseason due to playoff expansion in the mid-90s. "Considering Mickey only hit his 18 home runs in the World Series, and I hit mine in in two rounds, not to take away from Bernie, but he's had three rounds of playoffs," he said.
Mussina would have been the first pitcher to lose four decisions in one postseason, and instead he won what may turn out to be the swing game of this series, against the Marlins' best. "We beat Pedro in the AL Championship Series," said Mussina, "and beating Josh Beckett in the World Series is a big game for us."
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.