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Ross Newhan / ON BASEBALL

Lousy Hit Leads to Marlin Victory

October 19, 2003|Ross Newhan

NEW YORK — It is the Theory of the Lousy Hit.

Juan Pierre practices it, preaches it, has his Florida Marlins believing it.

Well, if Mike Lowell wants to drive the ball out of the park on occasion, as he did 32 times during the regular season, that's OK too.

But hasn't the catalytic Pierre, the Florida leadoff man, been talking up this business of going the other way, using the whole field, thinking in terms of what he calls the lousy hit since his first game with his new team in April?

"These guys thought I was nuts, but it's kind of become our credo now," Pierre said.

"I mean, there are times now when the whole dugout is saying, 'Beat 'em with a lousy hit.' You just don't have to hit it out of the park every time."

That's a good thing for several reasons.

One being that Pierre has just four home runs in the 2,077 regular-season at-bats of his four major league seasons and might have to consider another line of work if required to hit it out of the park.

A second being that the Marlins, who finished behind 10 National League teams in home runs, wouldn't be where they now are without those ... well, lousy hits of their trigger man and others.

Where the Marlins were Saturday night was in hallowed Yankee Stadium, amid a capacity crowd and all of the usual October ghosts, and where they are now is a game up on the Yankees, having won the World Series opener, 3-2, with Pierre responsible for just about all of the ghost busting and just about all of the Florida offense.

The pinstripes?

The aura and mystique that Curt Schilling demeaned by saying that "aura and mystique" sounded a lot like dancers in a nightclub?

Well, Pierre said he stepped to the plate in the first inning, took a deep breath as he adjusted to his surroundings, and dropped a drag bunt single on the second pitch from David Wells.

More pretty than lousy, it may have been a little more than a hit in the box score.

"I think I got in their head right there," he would say later.

A surprise element?

Not really, said the 26-year-old center fielder.

Who could have been surprised considering he led the National League with 45 infield hits and 29 bunt hits and led the major leagues with 168 singles among his 204 hits while batting .305?

How lousy is that?

"I know how they play in the American League, I know how their series with Boston and Oakland was played, and I know there aren't too many guys bunting over there," Pierre said.

"That's my job, to put them uneasy, to create a little havoc. With the bunt I think they weren't as comfortable the rest of the game."

It is not unusual for the first and third basemen to move up, guarding against the bunt when Pierre is batting, but the Yankees were so uncomfortable that even second baseman Alfonso Soriano was playing in, on the infield grass, when he batted in the third inning, a first said Pierre.

"I could hear [Yankee Manager Joe Torre] yelling, 'Move up, move up,' " he said. "There were people out of position all over the infield and that opens things up for me. I think I accomplished what I wanted to do tonight as far as getting on and creating havoc."

Pierre grounded out to Soriano in that third inning at-bat, but the entire infield was pulled in with runners at second and third and one out in the fifth.

The score was tied, 1-1, and the Yankees were in to cut off a run at the plate, but the holes were there, and Pierre slashed a single to left to score both of the runners for a 3-1 lead that would prove insurmountable and leave Florida Manager Jack McKeon saying he can't say "anything but good things about Juan. He makes us go."

In an impressive Series debut, Pierre would be on base twice more.

An irritated Wells hit him with a pitch in the small of the back in the seventh, and Pierre walked and stole second in the ninth.

He led the majors with 65 stolen bases and is essentially on his own when deciding to run.

"I don't even know when he's going to go, so I'm sure the opposing pitcher doesn't either," McKeon said.

The Marlins acquired Pierre from the Colorado Rockies last winter in a complex multiplayer, multimillion-dollar deal that also involved the Atlanta Braves and had the Rockies dumping Mike Hampton's salary and acquiring Preston Wilson, who would lead the league in runs batted in, and the Marlins shipping Hampton on to the Braves while changing the complexion of their attack with Pierre, of whom McKeon said:

"He and Tony Gwynn are the hardest workers I've ever seen. Juan is here before everyone else just about every day, walking the outfield, checking how balls come off the walls, taking extra hitting.

"Where would I be without him? At home in North Carolina."

Only a couple of coaches were in the Marlin clubhouse when Pierre arrived at Yankee Stadium six hours before Saturday night's game to become more familiar with the ghosts -- of which maybe he is one.

"He's a throwback," veteran teammate Lenny Harris said. "He's a Mickey Rivers type. Baseball has gotten away from the type of game Juan plays.

"You look at the lineups in the American League and it's like one through nine all have 15 or more home runs. If Juan hits even one in batting practice he's excited, but he knows what he has to do, and he had some spectacular at-bats tonight."

Said Pierre, smiling: "The way balls are flying out of parks now, I'm just glad the general manager and baseball here had faith in the way I play and the way the game can be played."

Lousy hits count, too.

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