The Baseball Desert

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Advantage: Marlins

It didn't feel like Game 1 of the World Series, it didn't sound like Game 1 of the World Series, and the Yankees didn't play like it was Game 1 of the World Series. Maybe the Yankees were having trouble getting back to the business at hand after that dramatic ALCS Game 7 against the Red Sox, or maybe they just couldn't get excited at the prospect of playing the Florida Marlins - whatever the reason, they just didn't seem to be in last night's game. They made a couple of key errors - Aaron Boone (the hero of Game 7) cut off Hideki Matsui's attempt to gun down Juan Encarnacion at the plate and elected to try to get Juan Pierre at first instead, and Nick Johnson got himself picked off third base by Pudge Rodriguez - and paid the price.

The Marlins have said all along that they weren't going to be in awe of the Yankees or the Big Ballpark In The Bronx, and it showed. They were neither too keyed-up nor too loose - they came out and played the same kind of baseball that they've been playing all season. Juan Pierre's first-inning bunt-hit set the tone for the whole game - it couldn't have been a real shock to the Yankees that he tried such a move, but the fact that he did it on the second pitch of the game clearly signalled Florida's intentions and probably got the Yankees wondering a little bit. It immediately gave Florida not only the chance to score an early run - which they did - but also an opportunity to take any lingering Game 7 momentum away from the Yankees and their fans.

Marlins manager Jack McKeon also played his part in the win by continuing to manage in his inimitable 'every game is a game 7' style. He started Miguel Cabrera in left field - his fourth different position of this postseason - and wasn't afraid to use Dontrelle Willis for 2 1/3 innings to help preserve the Marlins' lead. Willis and Cabrera are perfect examples of why this Florida ballclub has been so successful - both of them were asked to perform in roles with which they were not necessarily comfortable, and they did so without batting an eyelid. There's an inherent respect for McKeon in their attitude - if he thinks that they're going to be more useful in a different role, then so be it - just go out there and do it. This kind of decision is obviously easier to implement with rookies like Willis and Cabrera than with a highly-paid veteran who's been round the block a few times, but such is the respect that the players have for McKeon that even that is not a factor - witness Mike Lowell having to sit on the bench after coming back from inury because McKeon didn't want to change a winning team. It wasn't easy for Lowell, but he understood why McKeon did it.

So, Goliath lost the first round of the Series to David. It's no big deal - the Yankees have been here before and bounced back, but if they're going to do so in this World Series, they need to find a way to slow the Marlins down.

Round two is scheduled for tonight - Andy Pettitte (whose legendary pick-off move might help keep Pierre and Castillo a little closer to first base) vs. Mark Redman. Both pitchers will be pitching on just three days' rest, so it promises to be an interesting duel.