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Marlins Aren't Joshing Around

Florida players are happy to be home but know they will have to be at their best as they ask Beckett to stop the reinvigorated Yankees.

October 21, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — The Florida Marlins will receive a hero's welcome tonight as they return to Pro Player Stadium in Game 3 of the World Series.

An eight-day odyssey to Chicago and New York produced the surprising team's second National League pennant in seven seasons and an opening World Series victory over the AL champion Yankees. A crowd of more than 65,000 will show its appreciation, though the Marlins acknowledge they can't revel in the attention too long.

The suddenly re-energized Yankees pulled even in Game 2 behind starter Andy Pettitte's dominant outing, and the World Series is now a best-of-five showdown with the next three games on the Marlins' home turf.

"I definitely think we're going to get a nice ovation," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "And we deserve it."

But the powerful Yankees have played it cool throughout their current run of six World Series appearances in eight seasons, and they're as comfortable in stifling humidity as they are in numbing cold.

"Everywhere we go, we have our share of fans, and we certainly know that there are a lot of transplanted New Yorkers in South Florida," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. "There's no question, but that really doesn't have a lot to do with it for us.

"We've always been a pretty good road club. The main reason is that our pitching has always been pretty good. When you have a guy like [closer] Mariano Rivera who can shut the deal, you're not afraid of playing on the road."

Although the crowd isn't a big deal for the 26-time World Series champions, the upstart Marlins welcome any boost they can get, especially from a region formerly apathetic to baseball because of the rapid dismantling of the club's 1997 World Series winner and the turmoil that followed.

"After we won the World Series, we kind of had a grip on South Florida, as far as embracing baseball," said left fielder Jeff Conine, also a member of the title team. "Unfortunately, we all know what happened to the team and, with it, the enthusiasm for baseball went right out the window.

"Now, with this team and the enthusiasm that the fans have shown toward the last couple of weeks of the season and during the playoffs, you've got to feel encouraged."

The NL wild-card winner had the major league's third-worst average attendance this season at 16,290. But football-first Pro Player Stadium, which can accommodate about 67,000 for baseball, has been packed in the playoffs.

The Marlins credited fans for doing their part as the team won two games to close out San Francisco in the division series and, after dropping Games 3 and 4 of the NL championship series at Pro Player Stadium, staved off elimination in Game 5. The Marlins defeated the Cubs in the final two games at Wrigley Field to win the pennant.

"It's a good feeling," Lowell said. "It's much more fun to be playing in front of 65,000 than playing in front of 6,000. We're an exciting team to play and watch."

The Yankees can attest to that after the first two games at Yankee Stadium.

Speedy leadoff batter Juan Pierre frazzled the Yankees as the Marlins won Game 1, 3-2. Pettitte was spectacular for 8 2/3 innings as the Yankees took the second game, 6-1, and now right-handers Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett try to give their teams an advantage.

Mussina is 0-3 with a 4.03 earned-run average in the postseason, but pitched three shutout innings in the Yankees' 6-5, 11-inning victory over Boston in Game 7 of the AL championship series -- his first relief appearance after 401 starts.

Pierre and No. 2 batter Luis Castillo are Mussina's top priorities.

"The top of their lineup, you want to keep them off the bases the best you can," the 17-game winner said. "A large part of their game is their speed, so we're going to do the best we can to keep them off of there.

"The guys in the middle, you have to pitch them like any other [Nos.] 3, 4 or 5 guy. You go at them with your best stuff and try not to give them something good to hit."

Another key story line is the move of designated hitter Jason Giambi to first base, bumping Nick Johnson to the bench, because there's no designated hitter in the NL ballpark. Giambi, who returned to third in the batting order in Game 2 after briefly being dropped to seventh, has had problems with his left knee and hasn't played the field since late September.

The 23-year-old Beckett has been the Marlins' top playoff starter with a 2.82 ERA. He already has developed a big-game reputation, pitching a two-hit shutout against the Cubs to send the league championship series back to Chicago and then working four scoreless innings on two days' rest in the decisive Game 7.

"He's 'old-school' for me," Torre said. "When you say, 'Give me the ball,' in that last game against the Cubs, and he had just pitched a couple of days ago ... he just looked like he'd been out there for 10 years."

Marlin Manager Jack McKeon believes Beckett is ready for another challenge.

"I've had a lot of young pitchers, and he is, by far, the most outstanding young man I've had as far as mental toughness in the big leagues," the 72-year-old manager said. "He's a youngster that has a lot of confidence in himself. Right now, I have the most confidence in Josh Beckett as I do anybody."










Pro Player Stadium, 5:30 PDT

TV -- Channel 11.

Radio -- KSPN (710).

Update -- The World Series shifts to Dan Marino Blvd. for the pivotal Game 3. Beckett has been the Marlin ace in the postseason, going 1-1 with a 2.73 earned-run average. Mussina came out of the bullpen to save the Yankee season in Game 7 of the American League championship series, but he has been a disappointment otherwise, going 0-3 with a 4.03 ERA.

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