Sunshine boys

Florida takes its place in the sun as Beckett blanks Yankees, 2-0, to win title

McKeon's gamble pays off for Marlins in Game 6 as ace gets ball, 5-hitter

Conine: `Nobody gave us a chance'

World Series

October 26, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The Florida Marlins were three outs from winning their second World Series in six years last night, and former Oriole Jeff Conine was standing in the bowels of Yankee Stadium, too nervous to watch.

Florida's 23-year-old ace, Josh Beckett, went out for the ninth inning to complete his five-hit masterpiece against the New York Yankees, and Conine retreated to the tunnel leading away from the team's dugout.

"I was sick in the stomach," he said. "I was just listening to the crowd react."

When Conine heard the silence, he knew it was time to celebrate.

With Beckett leading the way, and the Yankees looking more broken down and beaten as they have in ages, Florida completed its remarkable postseason journey with a 2-0 victory in the sixth and deciding game of the World Series.

Luis Castillo broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning with a two-out, run-scoring single off Yankees starter Andy Pettitte. Conine, the only current Marlins player who was a part of their 1997 championship team, added another run in the sixth inning, after reaching on an error by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Beckett did the rest, earning Most Valuable Player honors in the series after becoming the first pitcher since the Minnesota Twins' Jack Morris in 1991 to pitch a shutout in the deciding game.

That has happened only 19 times in 100 years.

For Jack McKeon, the Marlins' 72-year-old manager, the night brought vindication. With a 3-2 lead in the series, he gambled in Game 6 by bringing Beckett back on three days' rest - one fewer than usual.

"You all questioned why I would start him on three days' [rest]," McKeon said. "I told you, he's a special individual. This guy has got the guts of a burglar."

Beckett was like Robin Hood, stealing from baseball's rich to give to the poor. The Yankees' payroll was $180 million this season, the Marlins' $57 million, creating the biggest difference in World Series history.

"We stuck it out," Beckett said. "Nobody thought we could beat San Francisco, nobody thought we could beat the Cubs, nobody thought we could beat the Yankees, and yet, here we are."

The Yankees hadn't seen a visiting team celebrate a world championship on their home turf since the Los Angeles Dodgers did it in 1981, and this was quite a sight.

Beckett tagged Yankees catcher Jorge Posada along the first base line on a squibber for the final out, and Florida's bench emptied, with the black-shirted players mobbing each other in the infield.

The Yankees walked sheepishly from their dugout to the clubhouse, and their fans stood in stunned silence while Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" blared over the stadium loudspeakers.

"Andy [Pettitte] pitched great; Josh Beckett pitched unbelievably great," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They deserve to be world champs."

Torre's team has reached the World Series six times in the past eight years, but the Yankees haven't won it since 2000. And on this night, the core group of players they counted on for so long - Pettitte, Posada, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams - didn't get the job done.

Pettitte got the first two outs in the fifth before Florida rallied to break the tie. Alex Gonzalez and Juan Pierre singled, and then Castillo, who entered the at-bat hitting .130 for the postseason, lined a single to right field.

Yankees right fielder Karim Garcia has a strong arm, but Marlins third base coach Ozzie Guillen sent Gonzalez chugging home. The throw pulled Posada to the first base side of home plate, and Gonzalez made a spectacular hook slide, keeping wide enough to avoid Posada's sweeping tag and then reaching back with the fingertips of his left hand to touch the plate.

It wasn't panic time for New York. The Yankees still had 15 outs remaining, but they lost a little of the wind in their sails the next inning. A sacrifice bunt by Aaron Boone moved Garcia to second base, but Alfonso Soriano popped out to third base for the second out, and then Beckett struck out Jeter with a 97-mph fastball.

Jeter, the normally sure-handed Yankees captain, carried his offensive frustration into the field. Conine, the designated hitter, led off the sixth with a routine grounder to shortstop, but Jeter bobbled the ball and bounced his throw past first baseman Nick Johnson for an error.

Then Pettitte compounded his own problems. He walked Mike Lowell, and when Derrek Lee tried advancing the runners with a bunt back to the mound, Pettitte threw to the wrong base.

He had a play at third on Conine but went to second instead, and Lee sprinted down the first base line to avoid the double play. With runners at the corners and one out, Juan Encarnacion made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly to right field.

"I don't know if you can describe [the disappointment]," Jeter said from the funereal Yankees clubhouse. "You play this game to win, and when you don't do it ... I don't know what to say."

Back on the field, Conine had surfaced from the tunnel, donning a gray championship T-shirt and matching hat. The Orioles traded him to the Marlins on Aug. 31 for a pair of top pitching prospects, and he went from fourth place all the way back to the mountaintop.

"In our mind, we don't think it's an upset at all," Conine said. "In everyone else's mind, it's a huge upset because nobody gave us a chance."

World Series by the numbers

5 Hits allowed by Marlins' Josh Beckett.

1991 Last Series complete game before Beckett's.

.140 Yankees' Series average with men in scoring position.

2 Marlins' Series titles in past seven years.

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