Beckett pitches way to MVP
NEW YORK — Champagne-soaked and still looking to celebrate, several Florida Marlins headed to Monument Park to snap souvenir pictures and rub Babe Ruth’s bronze head.
When they get back home, they may want to build their own shrine — to Josh Beckett.
The wild-card Marlins wrapped up their wild ride with a most improbable World Series championship, stunning the New York Yankees, 2-0, on Saturday night behind the strong right arm and sheer determination of their young MVP.
“You’ll believe me now that anything can happen,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “This guy has the guts of a burglar.”
McKeon was second-guessed the moment he said Beckett would start Game 6 on three days’ rest. But the 23-year-old fastballer, called “Rook” by his manager, made McKeon look brilliant.
Starting on short rest for the first time in his career, Beckett threw a five-hitter to give the Marlins their second title in seven seasons.
Beckett outdueled Andy Pettitte and defeated a Yankees team that had won four of the last seven crowns, never allowing a runner past second base.
“They’re a tough squad. They have 27 championships,” Beckett said.
His pitching was better than his math. Because of him, the Yankees are stuck at 26.
“That kid showed that he was going to be a great one down the road, if he hasn’t already,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “When you’re that young, you don’t know what fear is.”
Not since 1981 had another team won a Series championship on the field at Yankee Stadium. When the Los Angeles Dodgers did it then, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner apologized to the city for the dismal performance.
“It makes you sick,” Yankees star Derek Jeter said of the Marlins’ celebration. “How else can you feel?”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and former star Reggie Jackson, chins resting on hands, watched from a box with the same incredulous look on their face.
“I feel emptiness,” Torre said.
It was as if the sellout crowd of 55,773 couldn’t believe what it was seeing — then again, Florida has been an upset special this October in improving to 6-0 lifetime in postseason series.
The Marlins’ post-game celebration spilled from the clubhouse back onto the field, where players and their families hugged and kissed, and their kids circled the bases.
Even Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria took a victory lap — and with good reason.
After the franchise was stripped of its stars in cost-cutting moves following its 1997 championship, Loria came in later and helped rebuild it. Though the Marlins were outspent 3-to-1 by the Yankees, they brought in the right mix of players to put them back on top.
“In our mind, it’s not an upset at all. In everybody else’s mind, it’s a humongous upset. Nobody gave us a chance,” said Jeff Conine, the only Florida player who also was a member of that 1997 team.
The resilient Marlins dropped the opener to Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants in the division before winning three in a row. They overcame a 3-1 deficit in the NL championship series, beating Cubs aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood at Wrigley Field.
In this 100th World Series game at Yankee Stadium, Beckett and the Marlins never gave the Yankees much of a chance. Florida became the fastest team in the post-expansion era to win two titles, having joined the majors in 1993.
Beckett finished 1-1 in the Series. He lost Game 3 despite 71/3 impressive innings.
In the NLCS, Beckett saved the Marlins’ season with his first major-league shutout, a two-hitter against Chicago in Game 5. He then came back on two days’ rest to pitch four innings of one-hit relief in Game 7.
Beckett’s shutout ended the career of the player he grew up idolizing — Roger Clemens. The Yankees pitcher is retiring, with his next stop the Hall of Fame.
Beckett seemed to take it all in stride, speaking with little emotion afterward.
“I can’t believe we don’t have a game tomorrow. Not to say that winning the world championship isn’t a big thing,” he said. “It’s kind of relief to get to go deer hunting now.”
Luis Castillo snapped his 0-for-14 rut with an RBI single that saw Alex Gonzalez make a neat slide home in the fifth and Juan Encarnacion added a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
That was plenty for Beckett, who fielded Jorge Posada’s tapper up the first-base line and tagged him for the final out. He struck out nine, featuring a 97 mph fastball, and walked two.
In the past five postseasons, pitchers working on three or fewer days’ rest had been atrocious. In 37 such starts, they were 6-20 with a 5.93 ERA.
But Beckett and the 72-year-old McKeon threw that wisdom to the wind. It was just the kind of free thinking that made McKeon so successful this season — the Marlins were 19-29 shortly after he took over for the fired Jeff Torborg in mid-May, and headed toward a last-place finish before he took them to the title.
“Nobody gave us a chance and here they are world champions,” said McKeon, the oldest manager to win a World Series title.
Notes: New York is 64-36 in Series games at Yankee Stadium. … Pettitte fell to 13-8 in postseason games. He remained tied with John Smoltz for the most postseason wins. … Castillo has not made an error in his last 82 games at second base.