MIAMI - Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett were making a lot of hitters look silly last night in Game 3 of the World Series.
In a search for offensive respectability, the New York Yankees turned to a player they've been able to count on so many times in October over the past eight years: Derek Jeter.
For the Florida Marlins, the player taking the best swings was a whopping 20 years old. Miguel Cabrera had a run-scoring single in the first inning, and he added another single off Mussina in the sixth.
The Yankees didn't have a hit until the fourth, as Beckett retired the first 10 batters he faced. Jeter stepped to the plate with one out and gave his team a reason to believe.
After striking out swinging at a 97-mph fastball from Beckett in the first, Jeter took a 96-mph fastball for a ball and then pounced on an 86-mph change-up, lining the ball down the left-field line for a double.
Beckett, who had allowed just one run in his previous 16 innings, started to unravel a bit after that. He walked Jason Giambi and hit Hideki Matsui with a pitch to load the bases. He then walked Jorge Posada - with plate umpire Gary Darling calling a close 3-2 pitch low - to force home Jeter with the tying run.
Jeter, the Yankees' captain, singled in the sixth inning, and the score was still tied 1-1 when he came up in the eighth. A light drizzle was falling, and Beckett had just struck out Yankees leadoff man Alfonso Soriano for the third time.
There was one out, and rather than protect the line, Marlins first baseman Derrek Lee was playing about 10 feet toward second base. It was a costly mistake. Jeter got a pitch he could handle from Beckett and drilled the ball down the first-base line for another double.
With a series of lefties and switch-hitters coming up for the Yankees, Marlins manager Jack McKeon pulled Beckett and summoned left-hander Dontrelle Willis. In Game 1, Willis turned in a brilliant relief performance, but this time he only retired one batter before Matsui singled to left field, scoring Jeter with the go-ahead run.
Yankees fans have taken to calling Jeter, "Mr. October," a title they once bestowed to Reggie Jackson. This postseason has been no different.
Jeter is batting .321, with 18 hits in 56 at-bats. He has 119 postseason hits for his career, more than any other player in major league history.
Last night, he went 3-for-4, and scored three runs.
Once again, Jeter is elevating his game at a time when the Yankees need him most. He dislocated his left shoulder on Opening Day, when he slid into third base and collided with Toronto Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby.
But he returned May 13, and finished the season batting .324.
Cabrera started this season in Double-A, and on the game's greatest stage, he looked like a seasoned major league veteran.
McKeon used Cabrera as his cleanup hitter again last night, and he got the better of Mussina in his first career confrontation with him. With two outs in the first and Juan Pierre on second base, Mussina fell behind in the count to Cabrera, 3-0.
McKeon gave the kid the green light and Cabrera took a healthy cut at Mussina's next pitch, fouling it off.
Mussina came back with another fastball, throwing it in on Cabrera's hands, but he fought the pitch off and lined the ball into right field, scoring Pierre. The Marlins might have a budding Mr. October of their own, but in the end, this night belonged to Jeter.