Marlins aren't slow to pick up their feet

Florida can't match up on paper, but one element makes up for a lot: speed

World Series

October 19, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The Florida Marlins don't match up particularly well against the New York Yankees. They don't have the payroll or the star power or the mystique that has brought the World Series back to Yankee Stadium for the sixth time in eight years.

What they do have, however, is a sprinter's chance to win the 99th Fall Classic, and it was apparent in Game 1 that they intend to exploit their superior team speed whenever possible.

Leadoff man Juan Pierre opened the game with a bunt single last night and streaked from first to third on a bloop single by No. 2 hitter Luis Castillo to set up the first Marlins run.

Pierre would reach base four times, deliver a two-run single in the fifth and generally drive the Yankees to distraction for nine innings.

"That's my game, to create a little havoc," Pierre said. "They were on guard the rest of the game after the bunt, and that opened up the field for me."

It was just a one-run rally, but it was what the Marlins do better than anyone else in baseball. Pierre led the major leagues with 65 stolen bases during the regular season. Castillo had 21. Both of them stole successfully off left-hander David Wells and catcher Jorge Posada in Game 1.

"Speed is definitely the one thing you think about when you think about their club," Yankees manager Joe Torre said before the game.

"They have people who can hit home runs and all that, but the speed is something that can disrupt, can move defensive people out of their proper positions and do a lot of things.

"I think it's gonna put more pressure on our pitchers to try to keep their men off the bases."

The San Francisco Giants said the same thing before the start of the Division Series, and did a pretty good job of keeping the top of the Marlins' lineup under wraps.

The Chicago Cubs also were very much aware of the danger that the Marlins presented on the base paths, and stifled the running game for much of the National League Championship Series.

In each case, the Marlins found other ways to win and proved they were more versatile than either of their NL playoff opponents, but there is little question which of the two clubs in the Fall Classic is the better team on paper.

Pierre got off to a slow start in the NLCS but finished with nine hits and picked up last night right where he left off, accounting for all three Marlins runs in one way or another.

"He certainly makes them move," Torre said. "We didn't do well. He got on base four times. That's not the way you keep their offense down."

Even in that fifth-inning, run-production situation, his speed helped the Marlins score the second run. Yankee outfielder Hideki Matsui fielded the hit in left and spun around to fire a missile toward the plate, but third baseman Aaron Boone cut the throw off and fired the ball to first, hoping to catch Pierre rounding the bag.

If the Yankees had not been preoccupied with Pierre's speed, Boone might have allowed the throw to go through. There is no way of knowing whether it would have gotten to the plate in time to retire Juan Encarnacion, who runs pretty well himself, but Wells' reaction behind the plate clearly indicated he thought the third - and decisive - Florida run could have been prevented.

"If it's [Jeff] Conine who gets that base hit, you take a chance there and let it [the throw] through if it's close," Torre said. "If you have one of their speed guys, you don't want it to turn into a merry-go-round. Their speed affects your defense."

Apparently, the Yankees felt it was important to establish that the Marlins weren't the only team willing to press the action in Game 1. Alfonso Soriano led off the bottom of the first inning by beating out an infield hit and quickly stole second off strong-armed catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Torre's pre-game comments reflected the view that the running game was just the most outward manifestation of the overall tenacity that the Marlins have displayed on their way to the World Series - which has been cast in David-versus-Goliath terms.

"The team on the other side of the field - they don't know that they're not supposed to win," he said. "The only people who figure that are the ones who look at us like we should be the favorites; we should have no problem. But we know better."

Schedule

Florida Marlins vs. New York Yankees (Best of seven; *-if necessary)M Marlins lead series 1-0

Last night: Florida, 3-2

Today: At N.Y., 8 p.m.

Tuesday: At Florida, 8:32 p.m.

Wednesday: Florida, 8:24 p.m.

*Thursday: Florida, 8:24 p.m.

*Saturday: At N.Y., 7:55 p.m.

*Next Sunday:At N.Y., 8 p.m.

TV: All games on chs. 45, 5

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