Beckett completes Marlins' miracle run

NEW YORK -- Josh Beckett was supposed to be tired, or intimidated, or overwhelmed. The 23-year-old pitcher with 18 career victories in the major leagues started Game 6 of the World Series on three days' rest, in Yankee Stadium, and turned out to be a complete mismatch -- for Beckett.

He shut out the Yankees on five hits, 2-0, completing the Florida Marlins' improbable small-budget journey for a championship against baseball's richest franchise. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Yankees' Jorge Posada chopped at Beckett's 107th pitch and hit a grounder along the first-base line, and Beckett reached down, gloved the ball and tagged Posada as he passed, before throwing his arms into the air.

Game 6 breakdown

Unsung Hero

Alex Gonzalez. His single to center with two outs in the top of the fifth inning began the Marlins' first scoring rally. He later scored on a single to right by Luis Castillo to give Florida a 1-0 lead. Gonzalez had a bunt single his next time up in the sixth and also played a flawless defensive game at shortstop.


Derek Jeter. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and committed the defensive blunder of the game when he bobbled and subsequently threw wildly to first base on a ground ball by Jeff Conine to start the sixth inning. Conine came around to score later in the inning to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead.

Turning Point

Gonzalez's slide into home plate in the fifth inning to score the Marlins' first run of the game, the run that eventually won the game for Florida. Yankees right fielder Karim Garcia made a great throw to the plate after Castillo's single, but Gonzalez avoided the tag by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and swiped the plate with his left hand just before Posada tagged him.

It Figures

The Marlins had seven hits, six of which were singles. And for the series, Florida had 47 hits, 37 of which were singles. Who said small-ball can't win?

On Deck

The Marlins are World Series champions for the second time in the last seven years.

Other Marlins rushed out of the dugout and massed in the infield, jumping and shouting in the relative silence of Yankee Stadium; it was the first time an opposing team won the World Series on this field since the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series.

Beckett's teammates lifted the pitcher onto their shoulders; he was the first pitcher since Jack Morris to pitch a complete game shutout in the deciding game of the World Series. Jack McKeon, the Florida manager who gambled in starting Beckett on three days' rest, threw his arms around pitcher Dontrelle Willis.

"Who is going to (ask) the first question about if Beckett can pitch on three days' rest?" McKeon asked a roomful of reporters. "I guess you will believe me now anything can happen."

Some of the Yankees lingered in the home dugout, watching the Marlins celebrate; shortstop Derek Jeter quickly walked out. The Yankees went 0-for-12 with runners on base, sabotaged by their offense, as they had been throughout the World Series, and now New York faces an uncertain future with many changes imminent: volatile owner George Steinbrenner is bound to make extensive alterations to a franchise that is just starting to list, because of advancing age and increasingly impulsive personnel decisions.

Beckett had never pitched on three days' rest, and he anticipated the Yankees would be more patient, take more pitches, run up his pitch count. But Jeter and Nick Johnson, the first two hitters in the Yankees' lineup, swung at the first pitch Beckett threw to each of them. The Yankees were more aggressive, and "came out swinging," Beckett said. "And sometimes it works to my benefit because then I don't have to throw as many strikes because they will swing at pitches that aren't necessarily strikes."

So Beckett dominated the Yankees early, throwing a vicious hard-breaking curve, throwing hard but not totally airing out his fastball. Posada took a 94-mph fastball for strike three in the second inning, and Aaron Boone swung through a 95-mph fastball to end the same inning.

The Yankees had runners at first and second in the third inning, and Bernie Williams hit into a 4-6-3 double play. With a runner at second and two out in the fifth and Jeter at the plate, Beckett pumped up his fastball, throwing a 97-mph heater past Jeter. His pitch count, so crucial in this game, was only 63 after five innings, and Beckett continued; his performance overwhelmed that of veteran Andy Pettitte. "The guy really pitched a hell of a game," said Posada.

Pettitte retired 14 of the first 17 batters he faced, using a slow curve to nick the outside corner against right-handed batters and then spinning cut fastballs over the inside corner. He struck out Derrek Lee and retired Juan Encarnacion to open the top of the fifth inning, and to that point, Pettitte had thrown only 56 pitches. "He has no reason to hang his head low," said Bernie Williams. "He pitched his heart out."

Alex Gonzalez plopped a two-out single, and even that might have worked out for Pettitte; if he could retire the troublesome Juan Pierre with two outs, he would not have to deal with the speedster leading off the sixth.

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Behind in the count 1-2, Pierre fouled off a pitch -- and then smacked a line drive over shortstop, a single; Gonzalez stopped at second.

The inning still seemed to be in Pettitte's control, with slumping Luis Castillo next to hit. Castillo came into the game with only three hits in 21 at-bats in the World Series, and he had struck out and hit into a fielder's choice in his first two at-bats against Pettitte, still confounded by breaking balls. Castillo took a struck, then swung through a cut fastball. He was down in the count no balls and two strikes.

Pettitte, looking to finish off Castillo with Ivan Rodriguez on deck, tried another cutter, and Castillo beat it into the ground, foul. Pettitte threw his cut fastball again: Foul ball. Posada jogged out to the mound and he and Pettitte considered their options.

Castillo took a ball, the count 1-2, and when Pettitte took too long to agree to a sign with Posada, Castillo stepped out. Pettitte nodded at Posada, the battery mates in full agreement on what the next pitch would be when Castillo stepped back into the box.

A curveball, aimed at the outside corner. And it missed, just a little outside. Two balls, two strikes. The onus was shifting onto Pettitte, because the middle of the Florida batting order loomed, Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine.

So Pettitte gave in, throwing a pitch over the outer half of the plate. Castillo extended his arms and slammed a line drive into right field, where Karim Garcia fielded the ball on a hop in good order. But there was no question, with two outs, about whether Gonzalez would try to score: third base coach Ozzie Guillen windmilled his arm.

Gonzalez glanced toward right field, checking on Garcia's strong throw home. Waiting at the plate, Jorge Posada stepped out, moving up the first-base line, to reach for Garcia's throw as it came to him on a bounce. The ball beat Gonzalez to the home plate area, and Posada, ball in his mitt, lunged back toward the plate in an attempt to tag out the runner.

Alex Gonzalez, center, eludes the tag of Jorge Posada to score the Marlins' first run in Game 6.
Alex Gonzalez, center, eludes the tag of Jorge Posada to score the Marlins' first run in Game 6.

But Gonzalez had adjusted his route to home, moving away from Posada; when the catcher's glove whirled back, there was nothing to tag. Gonzalez slid past home plate, reached back and grazed home plate with his fingertips. Safe. The Marlins led, 1-0, and the way Beckett was throwing, it seemed like they led by 10 runs.

Pettitte walked Rodriguez and scrapped with Cabrera through an eight-pitch at-bat, Cabrera fouling off three pitches after the count reached 1-2. In all, the Marlins would foul off seven two-strike pitches in the inning, and

Florida doubled its lead in the sixth, after Jeter fumbled Conine's grounder to start the inning. Pettitte walked Mike Lowell, and after a fielder's choice bunt advanced Conine to third, Juan Encarnacion flied to right, scoring Conine.

Posada doubled to lead off the seventh, and the Yankee Stadium crowd began to stir, thinking this was the time when Beckett would finally begin to fade and the Yankees would come back. But after Jason Giambi grounded out to third, Beckett bent a curveball to strike out Garcia looking, and then finished off pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra with a 96-mph fastball, swinging -- the eighth strikeout for Beckett.

Jeter shouted to Alfonso Soriano as they came off the field to hit in the eighth -- "Let's Go," Jeter said -- and Soriano led off with a single. But Jeter flied to center, before Johnson bounced into a double play.

McKeon talked to Beckett after the eighth inning, and Ugueth Urbina was warming up in the bullpen, but there was no chance of a pitching change. McKeon was going to ride his young ace to the finish line, and Beckett accelerated in the ninth inning, retiring Bernie Williams on a fly ball, then Matsui, another fly ball.

One out to go. Posada swiped at a pitch and rolled the ball up the first-base line, and Beckett scrambled to get the ball, tagging Posada as he ran past. And then the Marlins went crazy. "I can't believe we don't have a game tomorrow," said Beckett, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series. "That's kind of the weird thing right now."

"Andy pitched great, Josh Beckett was unbelievably great," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "And you know, they certainly deserve to be world champs."

The Marlins began the season 16-22, fired manager Jeff Torborg in May and there was a presumption among baseball executives in June that it was only a matter of time before Florida would take a familiar path and begin trading veterans, most notably Lowell.

Instead the Marlins began winning, added Urbina and Conine, and they rolled into the playoffs amid low expectations but with extraordinary energy. Along the way, Josh Beckett remarked famously that the Marlins just might be stupid enough to win.

They turned out to be a whole lot better than that.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.