MVP Beckett shuts the door on Yankees, 2nd-guessers

World Series

October 26, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

NEW YORK - It's a relief, Josh Beckett said after it was over. Not that Beckett needed any relief last night. What a night.

There are no more games, no more crucial innings to ask of his live, young arm. Now he can sit back and reflect - as much as a 23-year-old will sit back and reflect.

More likely, Beckett will look forward. How could he not look ahead to spring, to next summer, after he served notice the way he did last night on baseball's biggest stage? Who wouldn't look forward to seeing this kid on the mound again?

"I think I need to come out strong next season. I still need to get 200 innings," said Beckett, an interesting admission considering he had just won the World Series, had just been named the Most Valuable Player.

In an October that started out touting names like Maddux, Sosa, Bonds, Martinez, Tejada, Zito, Jeter and Clemens, it came down to a man named Beckett.

The New York Yankees aren't used to looking out and seeing the most dominating player in a World Series wearing the other team's uniform - especially a Florida Marlins uniform.

It was one thing when Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson tag-teamed the Yankees into submission during the 2001 World Series. The Arizona Diamondbacks were constructed on the arms of veteran flamethrowers whose sole purpose was to dethrone the Yankees.

But the Marlins, what were they built for? To get a stadium built in South Florida? For a one-year wonder run to prove the new owners aren't carpetbaggers? What would it take for the Marlins to gain the respect of everyone so eager to write them off, ignore them or wait for them to just go away?

Florida's cigar-smoking manager, Jack McKeon, had an answer for every one of those questions in the clinching Game 6 of the World Series last night. His name was Josh Beckett.

All the credibility the Marlins needed to prove their worthy place in this championship round was embodied last night in the young, imposing form of the 23-year-old pitcher, the cocky and confident Texan who fashions himself as heir to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.

We knew Beckett had the audacity to think he could get it done, but did he actually have the stuff, the poise, the toughness to unseat the Yankees with Clemens sitting in a dugout seat, unable to lead the Yankees to championship No. 27?

Clemens, who battled valiantly in his major league finale in Game 4, will retire without a third World Series ring. Maybe young Beckett will let Rocket see the one he won last night on one of those slow days back home on the range.

Talk about passing the ultimate baseball baton. How does a complete-game, shutout victory against a $180 million juggernaut sound? How does a World Series MVP award-winning performance answer that question?

"And to think he did it on three days' rest," McKeon joked after enduring a full-throttle second-guessing session about his decision to use Beckett on short rest.

But McKeon knew. He knew what he had, he knew what Beckett could do. He also knew that Beckett did not appreciate the fact that the Marlins were constantly portrayed throughout this postseason as the lucky beneficiaries of everyone else's bad fortune.

The Giants flubbed the National League Division Series after Jose Cruz dropped that fly ball. The Cubs had that billy goat, that poor, interfering fan and Dusty Baker letting Mark Prior go too long in that eighth-inning collapse. If the Marlins were to win, there was a chance the story would be that the Yankees lost.

Beckett made sure it did not turn out that way. He was sensational, a special player who got control of this World Series and knew what to do with the ball. Nine strikeouts last night against a Yankees team that was just plain beat.

"They were the better team. They beat San Francisco. They beat Chicago. They beat us. They deserved to win," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, finally saying what the Marlins believed all along.

For now and forever, the Marlins will live in clear conscience with what McKeon did to post this title. By throwing down the gauntlet and sending his 23-year-old fireballer to the mound, McKeon told everyone who prefers caution and anticipates the worst to take a hike. If you can't say anything nice ...

"This guy is special. I told you he was. This guy has the guts of a burglar. He's mentally tough. ... I was not about to go out and take him out in the ninth when he had thrown 99 pitches," McKeon said.

What's not to love about a 72-year-old manager in the World Series for the first time creating a sense of urgency? McKeon taunted naysayers by reminding them that the Boston Red Sox saved Pedro Martinez for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and still lost. He reminded everyone that the Giants saved ace Jason Schmidt for Game 5 of the NL Division Series and never got there.

Beckett on three days' rest? Yes. Go ahead. Do it. It was the right move for an upstart wild-card team playing on house money. The Marlins had been aggressive in all ways this entire surprising season.

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