Curses alive, it's Marlins and Yankees

Survivors may not win a popularity contest, but aren't apologizing

Clubs drained by 7-game LCS

$180 million team must top `flying fish that never quit'

World Series

October 18, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - It has been the most exciting baseball postseason in recent memory, a postseason of such huge historical and psychological implications that two of America's greatest sports towns are in a state of civic depression today.

Go ahead Boston. Go ahead Chicago. Cry in your beer. The 99th World Series will be opening tonight without you.

The New York Yankees and Florida Marlins, both keenly aware that they weren't America's first choice to meet in this Fall Classic, will hook up tonight in Game 1 at sold-out, wrung- out Yankee Stadium.

The curses are back in their cages for at least another year.

The haven't-won-since story lines have been replaced with baseball's version of class warfare. Do you root for the richest team in professional sports or hope for a small-market miracle?

The network executives just hope that you care enough to root for somebody. The first two playoff rounds generated the best television ratings in years, but America tuned in to see if the Cubs and Red Sox could somehow thwart the supernatural forces that worked overtime to preserve their star-crossed legacies.

Instead, it came down to the team that everyone's tired of vs. the team that nobody cares about. Pull up a chair.

"I think it's going to come down to the Yankee mystique against the flying fish that never quit," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said jokingly.

Don't wait around for the Marlins to apologize to anyone for being here. They became only the fourth team to recover from a 3-1 playoff deficit and reach the World Series. If they needed an assist from some guy named Steve in the front row at Wrigley, well, that's just baseball.

Don't look for the Yankees to be sheepish about their sixth World Series appearance in the past eight years, because the Yankees and their fans have never been sheepish about anything. Entitled, yes. When your players get paid $180 million, it isn't unreasonable to expect them to work an extra month every year.

Maybe, as Derek Jeter pointed out yesterday, it's all a matter of perception.

"It's perceived good by us," he said, only half-joking. "We're in it. That's all that really matters."

Left-hander David Wells will take the mound for the Yankees tonight against Marlins right- hander Brad Penny. Former Oriole Mike Mussina, who came up big in relief in the Yankees' decisive American League Championship Series victory over the Red Sox, is likely to face Mark Redman in Game 2 tomorrow, though Yankees manager Joe Torre delayed a decision on tomorrow night's starter until today.

The Marlins find themselves a decided underdog in the series, but what else is new? They were not expected to beat the San Francisco Giants in the Division Series and they were left for dead after the fourth game of the National League Championship Series.

"Nobody gave us a chance to win the wild card ... we did," McKeon said. "Nobody said we could beat the Giants ... we did that. We didn't have a chance against the Cubs with Kerry Wood and [Mark] Prior. We accomplished that feat. Here's the next level.

"We're just a club that goes out there nice and loose and relaxed. Hey, nobody expected us to be here. Let the pressure be on somebody else."

That would be the Yankees, who despite their regular presence in the Series have not won a world title since 2000. Torre, who watched his team lose an exciting seven-game Fall Classic to the Arizona Diamondbacks two years ago, knows better than to underestimate the small-market Marlins.

"The only thing I can tell you is, I watched like everyone else that Jack McKeon ballclub," he said. "They certainly earned their way to the World Series.

"They beat two dynamite teams ... especially that Cubs team. Even though they had the better [regular-season] record than the Cubs, to come back from a 3-1 deficit and beat their two best guys on their home turf the last two games, their confidence is sky-high."

It wasn't just an issue of no one expecting the Marlins to plow through the postseason and reach the World Series for the second time in seven years.

Most of America - which usually loves the underdog - was rooting against them.

The first two rounds of the playoffs were a passion play with the Cubs and the Red Sox in the leading roles. The Marlins were just part of the supporting cast.

"I don't know that we ever felt like everyone was against us," Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest said. "We realized that we were playing some historic teams. The Giants and Cubs certainly have more history than us. ... I don't think we've ever felt unloved or unwanted. We just felt like we had to keep working like we have all year."

The Yankees are never out of the spotlight, but they could be forgiven for thinking that they played their World Series in the ALCS, going seven games and a few extra innings to beat the Red Sox early yesterday morning.

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