NEW YORK -- If you're going to dream the World Series dream, this is how you dream it:
Standing on the mound in the ninth inning, with nothing but zeroes on the scoreboard behind you.
Standing on that mound in Yankee Stadium, where Whitey Ford once stood in games like this. And Catfish Hunter. And Lefty Gomez.
Standing on that mound, throwing the final pitch of the shutout that wins the World Series, as Sinatra plays, and your teammates come streaming toward you, and the great Yankees can only watch.
This was Josh Beckett on a Saturday night in October when he lived out every dreamer's dream.
He was Jack Morris. He was Bret Saberhagen. He was Sandy Koufax. He was Johnny Podres. He was all of them and more.
He was the 10th pitcher in the last 60 years to throw a complete-game shutout in a game that won his team the World Series. He was the fourth-youngest pitcher ever to do that. He was, not surprisingly, the first pitcher to do it before he'd thrown his first regular-season shutout.
But when he was finished, when there were no more outs left to get and no more games left to play, it was still hard to believe what you saw out there on the giant scoreboard in Yankee Stadium:
Marlins 2, Yankees 0.
And one of baseball's most unlikely champions ever had just turned the ultimate World Series cathedral into the Bronx Fish Market.
Well, not even them. At least not in the middle of May, when they were 10 games under .500, and 96 games out of first place (OK, 13½). And the manager had just gotten fired. And Beckett was on the disabled list with an aching elbow. And their other ace, A.J. Burnett, had just gone to visit his friendly neighborhood Tommy John surgeron.
And oh, by the way, they had a lower payroll at the time than the Tigers.
That, friends, is not what you'd call your ideal formula for how to win the World Series.
Only one team in history -- the 1914 "Miracle" Braves -- had ever come back from 10 games below sea level to win a World Series. And only one other team in history -- the 1978 Yankees -- had ever fired its manager in midseason and then charged back to win a World Series.
So maybe what the Marlins were about to do wasn't quite unprecedented. But it sure falls under the category of: Kids, Don't Try This At Home.
By Saturday night, though, all of that seemed like practically as ancient a chapter in history as the fall of the Roman Empire. Because for the last five months, these Marlins have been quietly charging toward greatness. And on this night, their moment was within their grasp.
There was no bigger reason for that, of course, than the man to whom they handed the baseball.
He is only 23 years old. He's won fewer games in his big-league career (17) than Tomo Ohka, or Bruce Chen, or Ryan Rupe. But there's something about Josh Beckett that can't be summed up by anything he may have done before the last couple of months, when the games started getting bigger, and he grew bigger with them.
It can be summed up more by something Beckett told the Miami Herald's Dan Le Batard a few days back. He was speaking about the previous Most Important Game of His Life -- the spectacular two-hit shutout in Game 5 of the NLCS that launched the Marlins on their astonishing comeback to beat the Cubs.
"I don't want to be that for one playoff game," Beckett said. "I want to be that for 15 years. I want to be that good. I want to be Barry Bonds. I want when I pitch to be Win Day."
In other words, he wants his teammates to think exactly what they thought as they headed for the ballpark Saturday. They were going to win the World Series -- because Josh Beckett wouldn't let them lose.
"He's just got that mystique that the great pitchers have," said his manager, Jack McKeon. "Every time this guy is on the mound, you feel you're going to win. He's like Pedro (Martinez) or (Roger) Clemens. Those guys lift their teams on their backs, and that's what this guy wants to do."
And that's why McKeon made a decision a couple of days back he knew he'd be skewered for until he turned 172 if it went wrong. It was a decision to send young Josh Beckett to the mound, on three days' rest, to try to close out the World Series right here, right now.
It was not what you'd describe as the most universally hailed decision of McKeon's managerial career. But after what his players had seen from Beckett in the Cubs series, when he came back on two days' rest, to throw four innings of one-hit relief in Game 7, they had no doubt that Beckett on three days' rest would be better than Mark Redman or Dontrelle Willis or anybody else on the roster on any amount of rest.
"I know I didn't mind it," third baseman Mike Lowell said of his manager's decision. "I'm not a big fan of starting a young guy (Redman) who wasn't on his A game last time out and just saying, 'OK, we can lose Game 6, but we've got Game 7.' If they win Game 6, that's a big momentum swing in Game 7."
But the momentum can't swing when the home team can't score. And you had the feeling the Yankees couldn't have scored against Josh Beckett if he'd been pitching on 20 minutes' rest.
Every time one of those defining moments rolled around in this game, you could see Beckett reach back for whatever extra gear he needed to shift into. And another zero would go up on that board.
Two outs. Fifth inning. Tying run on second. Derek Jeter -- the man who'd gotten all three hits off Beckett in Game 3 -- stood at home plate. Whoosh. Jeter missed a 96-mph flame ball for strike one. Phew. Jeter locked on a crippling curveball for strike two. Then sayonara. Jeter waved at a 97-mph brush fire for strike three. End of inning.
Next crisis: Seventh inning, after a six-minute break for another marathon Yankees rendition of "God Bless America." Jorge Posada immediately sliced a leadoff double to left. The Stadium shook like an earthquake. But not for long.
"After the sixth inning," said reliever Chad Fox, "I went into the clubhouse to get a cough drop, so I watched an inning on TV, on the big screen in the back. I came back out to the bullpen after the inning and said, 'Boys, he's doing something special right now.' "
There would be one more Yankees threat, in the eighth, when Alfonso Soriano led off with a single. If that missing day's rest was going to show up, you expected it to show up here.
But again Beckett reached back, won a six-pitch duel with Jeter by getting him to loft a fastball to center for one out. Then a 1-1 changeup to Nick Johnson turned into a 4-6-3 double play. And the Florida Marlins were three outs away.
McKeon got his bullpen up, then wandered over to his catcher, Pudge Rodriguez.
Rodriguez knew what question was coming, so he answered it before McKeon asked it.
"Don't take him out," said Josh Beckett's catcher.
"Don't worry, I'm not," said Josh Beckett's manager. "Those guys warming up are just for show."
"I couldn't believe we got a 1-2-3 ninth," said Andy Fox. "I don't think we've had one of those in like seven weeks."
"That whole inning, I just got goosebumps," said first baseman Derrek Lee. "It was almost surreal."
And what was Josh Beckett's reaction when it was over? "I can't believe we don't have a game tomorrow," he said.
Well, they would have -- if not for him. They batted .232 in this World Series -- and won it. They were outscored in this World Series, 21-17, and won it. They were outhomered in this World Series, 6-2, and won it.
But that was almost perfect, for a team that never did anything normal all year long. About the only resemblance between these Marlins and the 98 World Series that came before them came when they gave the ball to this October's most dominating starting pitcher and let him do his thing.
Beckett was the first pitcher to throw a shutout in the game that won his team the World Series since Jack Morris in 1991. He was the first man to do that against the Yankees, in Yankee Stadium, since Lew Burdette in 1957.
Since 1970, only Morris and Beckett have thrown a World Series shutout on fewer than four days' rest. Since 1967, only Beckett and Bret Saberhagen have thrown a World Series shutout at 23 or younger.
But Beckett was 11 years old that night in 1991 when Morris was outdueling John Smoltz. He was in kindergarten when Saberhagen was shutting out the '85 Cardinals in Game 7. So he still has no idea quite what he did, against this team, in this ballpark, in this setting.
Afterward, he was talking as much about next year as this year, grumbling about how he'd never even thrown 200 innings in a season. You wondered whether it would take a bolt of lightning from the sky to make him realize that the nine innings he threw in this game was all it would take to make him a name that would go down in World Series lore forever.
"Knowing Josh the way I know Josh," said Chad Fox, "it wouldn't surprise me if you saw him walking around here with a blank look on his face, like, 'What did I just do?' But I hope that one of these days, he sits down and watches that game he pitched tonight, because that was damn near a masterpiece."
Near a masterpiece? That team he beat has won four of the last eight World Series. That team he beat had played 21 straight postseason series without anyone eliminating them in Yankee Stadium. That team he beat had a payroll three times what his team had.
So no wonder Josh Beckett wasn't the only guy in that Marlins locker room trying to grasp what had just happened. The Florida Marlins had won the World Series? How could that have taken place in real life?
That's what Mike Lowell seemed to be asking when someone handed him the World Series trophy to hold, just for a minute.
"Is this the major-league trophy?" Lowell asked. "Or is this Wiffle Ball?"
But it was the real deal, all right. It just seemed like a dream -- even to the men who were living out that dream on a magical Saturday night in The Bronx.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer at ESPN.com