Team for ages, Marlins seek clinching win

Florida manager, 72, to start ace Beckett, 23, on 3 days' rest tonight

`Might as well go with our best'

$180 million Yanks backed to wall by $57M Marlins

World Series

October 25, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The kid is cocky. The old man is cool.

And the Florida Marlins' quest to pull one of the biggest upsets in World Series history is hanging in the balance.

The kid is Josh Beckett, a pitcher born in 1980, who will take the mound tonight at Yankee Stadium for Game 6 with his overpowering fastball and Texas-sized ego.

The old man is Jack McKeon, a manager born in 1930, who is approaching the crowning moment of his career after more than a half-century in baseball.

Florida leads the series 3-2, putting Beckett, McKeon and the Marlins one victory away from winning a world championship against the New York Yankees.

It would be quite a tale: A team with a $57 million payroll slaying baseball's $180 million behemoth.

"After spending 50-some-odd years in baseball," McKeon said, "this is what everybody dreamed about."

Fittingly, the final chapter in this marvelous postseason opened with one whale of a decision for McKeon. With a one-game lead, he could have saved Beckett for a possible Game 7 tomorrow, but he opted to gamble and bring Beckett back tonight, with three days' rest.

In the era of the five-man starting rotation, today's pitchers are conditioned to getting four days between starts, but once again, McKeon is playing his hunches. If Beckett falters tonight, the Marlins will have Carl Pavano waiting for Game 7.

"We figured we might as well go with our best," McKeon said. "We're not looking to Game 7. We're looking to Game 6."

How was the kid taking the news? Picture Joe Namath sitting by the pool before Super Bowl III.

Beckett, 23, was in full uniform yesterday when he showed up for his news conference at Yankee Stadium, but his words carried that same Namath brashness, minus the victory guarantee.

"I'm looking forward to it," Beckett said.

Asked about his nerves, he said: "Too tired to be excited. We got here [to the team hotel] at 5:30 [a.m.]. So, I'm too tired to be excited today. I'll go home, take a nap and then start thinking about it."

One night earlier, after the Marlins defeated the Yankees, 6-4, in Game 5, Beckett sounded off about his team's perception in the national spotlight. First the Marlins upset the San Francisco Giants, then they rallied to beat the Chicago Cubs, and here they are one victory from upsetting the Yankees.

"Nobody gives the Marlins credit for being good," Beckett said. "It's always about curses and billy goats. It always has to be about the other team and what they did wrong."

When the Cubs first pushed the Marlins to the brink of elimination, Beckett tossed a two-hit shutout to win Game 5. It was the masterpiece pitching performance of the postseason.

Then he came back in Game 7, with two days' rest, and pitched four innings of shutout relief, helping send the Marlins to their first World Series since they won it in 1997.

The Yankees got their first glimpse of Beckett in Game 3, on Tuesday in Miami, and he threw 107 pitches before McKeon pulled him with the score tied 1-1 in the eighth inning.

McKeon, 72, drew criticism for that decision, when reliever Dontrelle Willis came in and gave up the go-ahead single to Hideki Matsui, which propelled New York to a 6-1 victory.

Those same skeptics were out in force yesterday, grilling McKeon for his decision to skip Mark Redman in favor of using Beckett and possibly Pavano, both on three days' rest.

"It's tough to sit up here," McKeon said. "You read one day that you should have pitched Beckett, one day you shouldn't pitch Beckett. You get second-guessed no matter what you do. If you guys [in the media] have the exact answer right here, I'll tell you right now, I'll take a poll. I'll be glad to listen to you if you know it's going to work."

McKeon made the decision with the confidence of a manager who has been right more times than he's been wrong this season. This is his first World Series as a manager, but he's already considered a savior in South Florida after taking over a 16-22 team from Jeff Torborg on May 11 and going 75-49 to claim the National League wild card.

The Marlins have yet to address McKeon's future, but their owner, Jeffrey Loria, made a nice gesture Thursday. Eight hours before Game 5, Loria told McKeon he wanted to show him something and then handed him the keys to a new Mercedes-Benz SL500 hardtop convertible.

"It was just a way of saying thank you for a job well done," Loria said.

"Jack would never do it for himself. ... He's made a lot of right moves. Nobody's going to be perfect, but he seems to be pushing a lot of the right buttons."

Tonight, the kid gets another chance to prove the old man right, again.

NOTES: McKeon said Juan Encarnacion will return to right field. With the series shifting back to the American League park, Jeff Conine will go back to designated hitter. Conine has 22 hits this postseason, three shy of the record shared by Marquis Grissom (Atlanta, 1995) and Darin Erstad (Anaheim, 2002).

Series glance

Tonight's game

Florida at N.Y. Yankees, 7:55 p.m., chs. 45, 5

Florida leads series 3-2

Starters: Marlins' Josh Beckett (10-10, 2.97) vs. Yankees' Andy Pettitte (24-8, 3.82)

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