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1997 WORLD SERIES: FLORIDA MARLINS / CLEVELAND INDIANS

Marlins Land the Big One

Game 7: Renteria's bases-loaded single in the 11th gives Florida a 3-2 victory and its first World Series title.

October 27, 1997|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — The newcomers approached the table cautiously. Then their owner, needing to win big quickly, put a lot on the line and rolled the dice.

On Sunday night, the Florida Marlins hit baseball's ultimate jackpot.

Completing the fastest rise in major league history, the fifth-year Marlins defeated the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, in Game 7 of the World Series on shortstop Edgar Renteria's two-out, bases-loaded, 11th-inning single to center to cap the 4-hour 10-minute game, the third-longest in Series history.

"I was so excited," said Renteria, who lined an 0-and-1 pitch over the glove of Indian pitcher Charles Nagy. "This is special because we won. We did it as a team."

The Marlins won the Series' first decisive seventh game since 1991, and in the process won their first title faster than any other expansion team. The New York Mets previously held the record. The Mets began play in 1962 and defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 Series.

"I told the guys when they came into the clubhouse today that we would be world champions," said Manager Jim Leyland, who carried the Marlin flag on a victory lap around Pro Player Stadium as a crowd of 67,204 celebrated.

"We fought all year and we never let up, never. I know I'm going to cry at some point tonight, but right now I just want to celebrate with my guys and the fans. This is for them."

It was also for Marlin owner Wayne Huizenga, who gambled in the off-season by investing $89 million in several high-profile free agents. Huizenga hoped for a night like Sunday, and the Marlins fulfilled his dream.

"This is the greatest feeling in the world," Huizenga said. "So many people are responsible for this."

None, though, more than Renteria. His single to center scored Craig Counsell from third with the winning run, giving South Florida its first professional sports title since the NFL's Miami Dolphins won Super Bowl VIII in 1974.

The National League champions defeated the San Francisco Giants in the division series and the two-time defending league champion Atlanta Braves in the championship series. They clinched both series in their opponents' stadiums.

And they did it as the wild-card playoff entry, becoming the first wild-card team to win the Series. The Marlins never lost consecutive games during their inspiring postseason run.

"We all wanted this so bad," Marlin outfielder Gary Sheffield said. "We prayed together before the game and we stayed together."

The postgame mood was obviously different for Cleveland. The AL champions took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning and they said they let it slip away.

"You have no idea how much this hurts," shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "I had a good feeling going into the ninth inning, but after that every pitch was a nightmare. We were just dead out there."

Bobby Bonilla singled to center to open the 11th against Nagy, who replaced closer Jose Mesa to retire Moises Alou for the final out in the 10th. Nagy was initially scheduled to start Game 7, but Indian Manager Mike Hargrove bumped him in favor of rookie Jaret Wright.

After getting Gregg Zaun to pop out on a bunt attempt, Counsell reached first and Bonilla went to third on an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez. The ball rolled under Fernandez's glove as he moved toward first base. He seemed distracted by Bonilla as he ran past him.

The Indians intentionally walked Jim Eisenreich to load the bases. The strategy seemed to work when Devon White hit a grounder to second and Fernandez threw home to force Bonilla.

But then Renteria came to the plate. Renteria won Game 1 of the division series against San Francisco with a two-out, bases-loaded, ninth-inning single. The Marlins led the major leagues with 24 victories in their final at-bat during the regular season. Renteria came through once again.

"You couldn't write a better script than this," Marlin first baseman Darren Daulton said. "Maybe I should just retire right now because this just couldn't feel any better."

The Marlins rallied in the ninth against Mesa. They trailed, 2-1, when Alou led off with a single to center and went to third on Charles Johnson's one-out single to right. Zaun ran for Johnson and stayed in the game at catcher.

With the tying run at third, Counsell hit a fly to right that scored Alou. Eisenreich, who entered the game with closer Robb Nen on a double-switch in the top of the inning, grounded out, and the game went to the 10th.

Each team used six pitchers. Reliever Jay Powell pitched a scoreless 11th for the victory.

Marlin left-hander Al Leiter had struggled in the postseason, entering the game with a 6.35 earned-run average. But Leiter was effective Sunday, giving up two runs and four hits in six innings.

The Indians started Wright, who began the season in double-A but matured quickly. The son of former Angel pitcher Clyde Wright, he pitched 6 1/3 strong innings, giving up the Marlins' first run on Bonilla's solo homer in the seventh.

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