Adversity is their middle name

By on October 30, 2003

Adversity creates character. In order to win any championship in professional sports, a team must go threw some kind of adversity. It is clear however, that the Florida Marlins have been through more struggles this season, than any other team in recent history.

It all began back on May 11 of this season when then manager Jeff Torborg was fired after the team started 17-22. Jack McKeon, the former head coach of the Cincinnati Reds, took over the helm.

When the Marlins went to Boston for a three game set at the end of June, the team was 21-11 under McKeon. In the first game of the series, the Fish were embarrassed 25-8. The next whoever, they overcame a four run deficit in the ninth inning, and won the game 10-9 thanks to a Mike Lowell homerun into the right field bullpen. From the time of that game winning homerun to the end of the regular season, the Marlins were 50-30, which was the best record in the majors during that span of the season, allowing the Marlins to finish 91-71.

Used to spark the 50 win in 80 game performance was May 9 call up Dontrelle Willis from AA Carolina. In his first 3 starts, he gave up 11 runs, only recording one win, and did not look like he was going to be a contributor to the Marlins success. But after that first win, Willis was 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA.

During the months of August and September, the National League Wild Card race was going to be decided by the Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a heated race down the stretch, and it was made even harder because of the broken hand suffered by starting third baseman Lowell and was placed on the disabled list on August 31. In an effort to acquire a third baseman to fill the void, the Marlins inquired to the Pittsburgh Pirates about Aramis Ramirez, who was later dealt to the Chicago Cubs. With no adequate replacement on the market, Florida decided to fill the void with 20 year old, converted shortstop, Miguel Cabrera. Filling in for Lowell, Cabrera hit .268 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI’s.

With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Marlins trailed the Phillies in the Wild Card race. During a three game set, they lost two games by a combined score of 19-4. After the three game set, the Marlins finished the season 7-3, including a three game sweep of the rival Phillies which allowed them to clinched the playoff birth.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Marlins were looked over because of their significant disadvantages. They were a wild card team playing against a San Francisco Giants team who was one of the best during the regular season, and has one of the greatest hitters of our time, Barry Bonds, hitting clean-up. The Marlins had not been to the playoffs since 1997 and they had a young inexperienced pitching staff being caught by a man who no one wanted before the season started in Ivan Rodriguez.

The Marlins preceded to lose the first game of the series in San Francisco and it appeared Florida’s season would be over soon. In game two, a costly miscue by Giants’ leftfielder Jose Cruz Jr., allowed the Marlins to score two runs off the Juan Pierre double. Going back to Miami for games three and four, the Marlins felt confident now that home field advantage was theirs. They indeed took control in their home stadium winning both games 4-3 and 7-6, respectively.

Game three was won on a Rodriguez single to leftfield in the 11th inning which scored the speedy Pierre from second base. Game four also came down to a one run decision. Cabrera singled to right in the eighth inning, scoring two runs to snap the 5-5 tie. The Giants proceeded to come back and make it a 7-6 game in the top of the ninth. With two outs, Giants pinch hitter Jeffrey Hammonds singled to leftfield. The hit was collected by Jeff Conine, who made a one-hop throw to home plate. Rodriguez made the catch and blocked the plate, absorbing the hit from Giant base runner J.T. Snow. Rodriguez fell to the ground, but held onto the ball, holding it in the air as he was piled on by his teammates. He continued to hold the ball until he got into the Marlin dugout.

At the same time the Marlins were upsetting the Giants, the Chicago Cubs and their talented young pitching staff was busy shocking the perennial dominant Atlanta Braves. This set up for a good match up between two young and exciting teams.

The series started out much different than the Marlins previous series. After winning game one in Chicago, Florida proceeded to lose three straight games to go down 3-1 in the series.

Game five was do or die for the fish, and the ball was turned over to little known pitcher Josh Beckett. He had never one a postseason game and the hopes of the Marlins rested on his shoulder. Beckett went out onto the mound and threw a complete game, two hit, one walk, shut out to keep the fish alive in the series.

Now being down 3-2 in the series, Florida still had their backs against the wall. They had the daunting task in front of them; win two games in Chicago, against two of the best young pitchers in the game today, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

It was only fitting that Florida would have such a large mountain to climb, that is the way the team’s season has gone. But the Marlins found themselves down 3-0 in the eighth inning, with Prior throwing strong. With five outs to go and a three run lead, the Cubs had all but punched their tickets to the World Series.

Then what is known throughout Chicago as “The Inning” began. With one out, Pierre doubled and Luis Castillo popped up down the leftfield line. The ball, affected by the swirling winds of Wringley Field, faded into the stands as Cub leftfielder Moises Alou jumped into the crowd but could not come down with the ball thanks to numerous fans who were grabbing at the ball as it came down. The second chance for Castillo gave the Marlins a sparked, which translated into three walks, three singles, three doubles, and a reach on error. The inning chased Prior from the mound, which led way to bout Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Remlinger pitching a third of an inning. Scoring eight runs in the eighth gave the fish a 8-3 lead which they did not relinquish thanks to closer Ugueth Urbina who pitched the eighth and ninth innings, not allowing a base runner while striking out two Cubs. The win tied the series at three apiece and gave the Marlins confidence going into a pivotal game seven.

The pitching match up for game seven was again not in the favor of the Marlins. Cubs’ ace Wood held a significant advantage over Marlin starter Mark Redman. It seemed as if the Cubs would be able to rap up the fish early and give their fans something to cheer about. Again with the odds against them, Florida held strong and tagged Wood for seven runs in five and two thirds innings. Farnsworth replaced Wood, and gave up two additional runs which gave the Marlins a 9-5 lead. Florida then turned to the game five starter, Beckett who was unhittable. He pitched four innings, allowing only one hit, a Troy O’Leary pinch hit home run, while striking out three.

Rookie postseason phenom Cabrera, had four RBI’s, including a three run home run off of Wood in the first inning which set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Rodriguez, the catcher who almost played in Japan this season because no team thought he could hit anymore, had a NLCS record 10 RBI’s on his way to winning MVP.

“We don’t give up, I guess,” said Rodriguez, who hit .333 in the series. “We’re just ready to play to the last out. That’s what we’ve been doing all year.”

The World Series now featured two teams who had emotionally and physically exhausting series. While the Marlins were battling the Cubs, the Yankees and Red Sox were playing in one of the best series this generation has ever seen. It went seven games, and took an eleventh inning walk-off home run by midseason acquisition Aaron Boone off of knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, for the Yanks to come out on top of the American League.

Since the All-Star game this season was won by the American League, thanks to Texas Ranger third baseman Hank Blaylock’s home run, the Yankees had home field advantage.

The Marlins appeared to be at a huge disadvantage playing the 26 time world champion Yankees, starting the series in New York. The series was going to prove a lot for both teams. It was a test for the Marlins young pitching staff of Beckett, Willis, Redman, and Brad Penny. For the Yankees, it was a time of farewell for Roger Clemens who said he would retire at the end of the season. Players such as Andy Pettitte, David Wells, and Aaron Boone were all trying to play well in hopes of receiving contract extensions.

Game one of the World Series started with the Marlins jumping on Wells quickly with Rodriguez singling in Pierre. Florida added two more runs off of Wells, who finished with one strikeout and allowing six hits. The Yankees were able to chase Marlin pitcher Penny in the sixth inning by scoring two runs on seven hits against the right hander. Florida then turned to its bullpen who shut the door for the final three and two thirds innings of the game. Willis and Urbina combined to allow two hits, two walks, and no runs, helping the fish game a 1-0 series advantage.

The story for games two and three were quite different. The series shifted to what everyone thought it would be from the beginning, a show of Yankee domination. The Bronx Bombers won game two in New York 6-1 and won game three 6-1 in Miami.

In game two, Pettitte proved his worth, earning his thirteenth career post season victory allowing only six hits and one unearned run in eight and two thirds innings.

Game three pit the past against the future when Mike Mussina was on the hill for the Yankees against the Marlins’ Beckett. Mussina allowed seven hits and one run while striking out nine. Beckett pitched seven and one third innings only giving up three hits and two runs while striking out 10, but the Marlin bullpen gave up four runs which put the game out of reach. Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams hit a three run home run in the ninth to put the game out of reach. The two teams left a combined 30 runners on base.

The Marlins now faced a huge disadvantage. They were down 2-1 to a Yankee team who appeared to find their groove. With two games left till the series shifted back to the Bronx, the Marlins had to regroup and play to their strengths.

In game four, the Marlins jumped quickly on Yankee starter Roger Clemens, by scoring three runs in the first thanks to a pair of hits by Cabrera and first baseman Derek Lee. Marlin pitcher Carl Pavano went eight innings, allowing only one run, when he was pulled for closer Urbina. Urbina proceeded to give up a run two ninth inning hit to Yankee outfield Ruben Sierra which tied the game at three apiece. The game was not settled until the bottom of the twelfth inning, when struggling Florida shortstop Alex Gonzalez hit a laser line drive to leftfield which barely cleared the wall. The round tripper gave the fish a 4-3 victory and tied the series at two.

Game five was the game which would determine who would go back to New York with the series’ lead. The Yankees had Wells on the hill to face Penny. Wells went out of the game in first inning with back pain and was replaced by off-season acquisition Jose Contreras. New York got the early lead off Penny and it appeared as it the Yankees would steal a game on the road. The Marlins then proceeded to score six runs in a four inning span and had a 6-2 lead going into the ninth. In that inning, Jason Giambi homered when he pinch hit for Jeff Nelson. The Yanks added one more run but were stalled by Urbina who came out of the Marlin pen to get the save. The win gave the Marlins the momentum and a 3-2 lead heading back to Yankee stadium.

Game six was filled with intrigue. Marlin manager McKeon decided to start youngster Beckett on three days rest. He also put the young Cabrera in the number four hole. Yankee right fielder Hideki Matsui hit clean up while second baseman Alfonso Soriano hit ninth. Under intense pressure and in a situation which he has never been in, Beckett threw a complete game, five hit, two walk, shut out. He also added nine strikeouts. Pettitte nearly matched his counterpart, only surrendering two runs, one earned, while striking out seven batters. His ERA for the series was a remarkable 0.57. But the two Marlin runs proved too much to over come against Beckett who recorded the final out of the series while tagging Yankee catcher Jorge Posada after he hit a dribbler down the first base line. Beckett won the World Series MVP award after pitching 16 and two thirds innings, allowing only two runs and 12 hits.

With a season full of disadvantages and neigh sayers, the Marlins proved that they could over come the odds and capture the World Series trophy. A midseason coaching change, having a young starting rotation, playing a 20 year old pitcher and third baseman, and being behind in every series they played in, has shown that the Marlins have the character it takes to be on top of the mountain, at least for one season.


About Matt Lefebvre