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Inside Baseball | AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

It's Going to Be Tough for Marlins to Keep It Together

September 26, 2004|ROSS NEWHAN

A hurricane-marred schedule that forced the Florida Marlins to play 30 games in their final 27 days, including three doubleheaders in 11 days, sapped their suspect pitching depth and destroyed a belated bid to repeat their 2003 World Series victory as the National League wild card.

Characteristic of the stress was that the Marlins were forced to give class-A right-hander Logan Kensing three pivotal September starts. He lost all three.

Now, as the Marlins prepare to watch the playoffs from a distance, they might find that the schedule was the easy part.

No team faces a tougher off-season, with 12 players, including 17-game winner Carl Pavano and 44-save closer Armando Benitez, eligible for free agency. Eight others are eligible for arbitration, and the long-term revenue stream is still clogged by unresolved negotiations for a new stadium.

Despite the disappointing season, the Marlins are expected to give Manager Jack McKeon a new contract, although he turns 74 next year.

"I like it here, and I like what I'm doing," McKeon said. "I wouldn't mind catching Casey."

He referred to Casey Stengel, who managed until he was 75, second on the AARP list to Connie Mack, who managed until he was 87.

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Throughout a long relocation process, Washington has always been the most feasible new home for the Montreal Expos despite two previous failures at supporting a team.

With an official announcement expected before next Sunday's final games of the regular season, people close to the search say the most noteworthy development beyond the D.C. selection might be baseball's reevaluation of the feasibility of a franchise in Las Vegas.

"Whether we can ever get past the gambling issue is a significant question," a Major League Baseball official said, "but on the basis of population growth, stadium financing and revenue potential, the Vegas presentation may have been the most intriguing of all."

A person connected to the Las Vegas bid said it was unclear whether the group seeking the franchise would forge ahead with stadium plans if and when MLB announces it is moving the Expos to Washington, but bet this: Major League Baseball would love to see a viable stadium in Las Vegas to use, at the least, as a wedge to get the Oakland A's a new stadium in the Bay Area.

Meantime, baseball might not have heard the last from Baltimore Oriole owner Peter Angelos regarding his opposition to a team in Washington. MLB President Bob DuPuy met with Angelos in Baltimore on Friday, but the Oriole owner rejected all of DuPuy's compensation overtures.

There are also legal experts who claim that the industry might be too optimistic regarding its ability to move the team in the face of a lingering lawsuit by the Expos' former minority owners.

The minority partners claim that Commissioner Bud Selig and former owner Jeffrey Loria conspired to destroy the franchise's value before MLB took over operation of the club two years ago. MLB has provided the court-mandated 90-day notice regarding its intention to move the team, but the former minority partners are seeking an injunction preventing the move.

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Lou Piniella insists he will satisfy the last two years of his managerial contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but he still could hear the siren call of the New York Mets, who are dumping Art Howe.

Piniella's agent, Alan Nero, is scheduled to meet with Tampa management Monday to try to determine if the Devil Rays are ever going to invest in quality players or continue to run a low-budget developmental camp.

As Piniella said, modifying his intentions: "I'm 61 and more interested in the winning part."

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A 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Friday night left the Boston Red Sox resigned to their wild-card fate. The game was eerily reminiscent of Game 7 of last year's American League Championship Series when the consensus was that then-Boston manager Grady Little stayed with Pedro Martinez too long, sacrificing a 5-2 eighth-inning lead and ultimately the pennant on Aaron Boone's home run in the 11th.

Little lost his job amid the ensuing uproar. Terry Francona is probably safe, but Red Sox Nation was experiencing another weekend of second-guessing despite Martinez's insistence that he was to blame for another lost lead in the eighth inning and not the manager. Martinez, in fact, virtually conceded that the Yankees have his number beyond their 11-10 career record against him.

"What can I say?" he said. "I just tip my cap and call the Yankees my daddy."

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