The Thrill and the AgonyThis week in sports by Chas Walker

Marlins cruise,
Yankees lose

The Florida Marlins stunned the baseball world by defeating the New York Yankees 4 games to 2 in the World Series. Few expected such results – the Marlins just slipped into the playoffs in the NL wild card slot. They proceeded to march through San Francisco, where they downed the Giants, and Chicago, where they came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Cubs.

But the Marlins are all about comebacks. Last year, Florida finished 79 and 83 during the regular season. They began this season 16 and 22 before canning Jeff Torborg as manager and hiring a miracle-maker, 72-year-old skipper Jack McKeon. From May 23 (12 days after McKeon was brought on board) onward, no team in baseball amassed a better win-loss record.

McKeon has now become the oldest manager to ever win a World Series.

Like those that came before them, the Bronx Bombers proved to be no match for the Fighting Fish. Though New York outspent Florida nearly 3 to 1 (the Yanks 2003 payroll was $180 million, the Marlins payroll was $63 million), it could not outplay them on the baseball diamond. The Yankees had all of the guns, but none of the ammo.

Game Six – the decisive game – was played on Saturday evening to a sold-out crowd in Yankee Stadium. It typifies the gritty play of the series. The Marlins scored 2 runs on 7 hits (all singles), and Josh Beckett pitched a complete game to hold the Yankees to 0 runs on 5 hits. Pitching on just three days rest, Beckett struck out nine players in pinstripes.

Aggressive baserunning put Florida a run ahead in the fifth inning. Luis Castillo hit a single sharply to right field and Alex Gonzalez took off from second base, tore around third, and deftly slid around New York catcher Jorge Posada’s swinging tag, just inches from his arm as it tapped home plate.

In the sixth inning, the Marlins added another when New York shortstop Derek Jeter lost his cool on a grounder, bobbling the ball and botching a throw to first to allow Jeff Conine to get on base. After walking Mike Lowell, pitcher Andy Pettite fielded a bunt from Derrek Lee to throw Lowell out at second base. Conine advanced to third base on the play, and with one out, Juan Encarnacion belted a sacrifice fly to right field, sending Conine home.

Beckett kept the Yankees down for the remainder of the game – finding his way out of tricky situations by striking out the sluggers or getting them to ground into double-plays. Fittingly, in bottom of the ninth inning, it was Beckett who applied the final tag to Jorge Posado, who chopped a grounder down the first base line.

“I am elated,” Jack McKeon commented to the press. “I didn’t have any idea that we would win in the playoffs or win the wild card. I had no idea we would get to the World Series and I had no idea we would win the World Series. … But being with these guys and seeing the attitude and the determination, the desire – we were on a mission.”

Note: Look for my upcoming feature review of Press Box Red, the biography of Walter Rodney, sports editor of the Daily Worker from 1936 to 1958, along with an interview by Tim Wheeler with Mr. Rodney and Irwin Silber, the book’s author.

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