Marlins starters Pavano, Penny saving best for last

Hit hard earlier in playoffs, pair is key in 3 Series wins

October 24, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

MIAMI-Baseball has a way of rescuing reputations this time of year.

The Florida Marlins are living proof.

They are one win from upsetting the New York Yankees in the World Series thanks, in large part, to Brad Penny and Carl Pavano - two starting pitchers who were both demoted to the bullpen earlier this postseason.

Penny earned his second win of the Series last night in Game 5, holding the Yankees to two runs on eight hits in seven innings. One night earlier, Pavano held New York to one run through eight innings in Florida's 4-3, 12-inning victory.

"We wouldn't have been here," Marlins pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal said, "without those two guys."

Go figure.

Penny's first two starts of the playoffs were both considered failures. He left Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants trailing 4-1 after four innings. In Game 2 of the NL Championship Series, the Chicago Cubs pounded him for seven runs in two innings.

In fact, Penny's struggle helped pave the way for Pavano to re-enter the starting mix. Needing a victory to save the season in Game 6, Marlins manager Jack McKeon dusted off Pavano, who allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, giving Florida a chance to make that remarkable comeback against Cubs phenom Mark Prior.

Then, in Game 7, guess who earned the victory in relief? Penny.

"Sometimes people just need a little kick in the [rear]," said Marlins ace Josh Beckett. "It motivates them. Brad's as motivated right now as I've ever seen him."

In the NLCS, Florida won even though its starting pitchers posted a horrific 7.20 ERA.

In the World Series, the starters' ERA is 3.30, and that includes Mark Redman's miserable outing (2 1/3 innings, four earned runs) in Game 2.

The pitcher everyone in New York feared was Beckett. He was outstanding in Game 3, leaving with the score tied 1-1 in the eighth, but the Yankees took the lead against Marlins reliever Dontrelle Willis.

Now McKeon will have Beckett waiting for Game 7, no matter what happens tomorrow in Game 6. That's a comfortable feeling, even with the series shifting back to New York.

Penny set the tone in Game 1, going into Yankee Stadium and holding New York to two runs in 5 1/3 innings. Pavano was in line for the victory in Game 4 until Ruben Sierra hit that dramatic, game-tying, two-run triple with two outs in the ninth inning off Marlins closer Ugueth Urbina.

Last night, Penny gave up a first-inning run, but he didn't let it spoil his composure. In the second inning, he stunned the Yankees with a two-run single off Jose Contreras, which gave the Marlins a 3-1 lead.

"I was swinging first pitch, no matter what it was," Penny said. "I got lucky."

He was still standing on the mound in the seventh, protecting a 6-2 lead, when a blister formed on his right middle finger.

Rosenthal went to the mound to check on him.

"He wanted the ball," Rosenthal said. "I left it up to him, and he said, `No, I'll get this guy."

Penny walked Enrique Wilson to load the bases, but he got Bernie Williams to hit a weak fly to right field to end the inning. Penny pumped his right arm in celebration, and with one more Marlins win, he'll have all of South Florida celebrating with him.

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