DANIA BEACH, Fla. -- They gathered at the airport late
Sunday night, not certain if their charter flight was destined for
Chicago or Atlanta.
It really didn't matter much to the Florida Marlins. Either way,
they weren't headed home for the winter.
The Cubs' 5-1 win over the Braves sent Florida to Chicago for
Game 1 of the best-of-seven NL championship series Tuesday night at
"We're all on a high, really," Marlins manager Jack McKeon
said. "It's an exciting time. No one thought we'd be here. People
probably still don't believe we're here."
Florida punched its first NLCS ticket since 1997 on Saturday,
beating San Francisco 7-6 to close out their best-of-five division
series in four games. The Cubs and Marlins were both underdogs in
the first round; Atlanta and San Francisco had the two best records
in the National League during the regular season.
"We'll probably be the underdogs in this series," McKeon said.
But neither team remaining in the NL playoffs is unworthy.
Florida had the best record in baseball the last four months of the
season, and Chicago emerged to win the NL Central -- baseball's
tightest division race this year.
McKeon said he isn't discouraged by the fact that Florida won
only two of six meetings with the Cubs this year.
"I've managed a number of years, and this is the finest bunch
of guys collectively I've ever been associated with," McKeon said.
"I just hope that, you know, all these good things that have
happened to us is a reward for the way they played this year and
the effort they put forth."
Josh Beckett will be Florida's starting pitcher Tuesday night.
Beckett lost his only start against the Cubs this season, allowing
six runs over six innings at Wrigley Field on July 7.
Chicago's expected Game 1 starter, Carlos Zambrano, faced
Florida once this season and held the Marlins scoreless in six
innings on July 8.