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Gonzalez down but never out in '03 Fall Classic

Unlikely Game 4 star will relive World Series with fans at 7 p.m. ET Monday
@JoeFrisaro
May 29, 2020

MIAMI -- Giving the ball to Josh Beckett on short rest in the 2003 World Series was a defining moment for Marlins manager Jack McKeon. McKeon’s risky move played out in storybook fashion, as Beckett’s Game 6 shutout in a 2-0 victory at Yankee Stadium cemented the organization’s second championship.

MIAMI -- Giving the ball to Josh Beckett on short rest in the 2003 World Series was a defining moment for Marlins manager Jack McKeon.

McKeon’s risky move played out in storybook fashion, as Beckett’s Game 6 shutout in a 2-0 victory at Yankee Stadium cemented the organization’s second championship.

McKeon never shied away from going with his gut instinct when facing a tough decision. He did that with little fanfare in Game 4. With the Marlins trailing the Yankees 2-1 in the Series, McKeon was asked pregame by reporters as to why he was sticking with Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, despite the fact that Gonzalez was 5-for-49 in the postseason.

The fact Gonzalez was struggling at the plate didn’t sway McKeon away from keeping his slick-fielding shortstop in the lineup.

“You didn't worry about what he hit,” McKeon told MLB.com recently. “He could field with the best of them. He was an outstanding defensive player and seemed to come up with a clutch hit here and there.”

Gonzalez certainly came through for the Marlins in the 12th inning of Game 4 at Pro Player Stadium.

Leading off the inning, Gonzalez connected on a full-count home run off reliever Jeff Weaver. The drive to left field just stayed fair, barely clearing the 330-foot sign, and it gave the Marlins a 4-3 walk-off victory to tie the World Series at 2-2.

Gonzalez had been just 1-for-13 in the World Series before his dramatic home run.

“In [the 12th inning], I put it in my mind that I had to get on base,” Gonzalez said in a conference call this week. “I don’t know how, but I had to get on base. A walk, base hit; I was fighting that at-bat. I was facing one of the best relievers in Jeff Weaver. He had a good slider and good sinker.

“Finally, I got a good pitch to hit, and I hit a homer.”

On Monday, Gonzalez will participate in a virtual chat, presented by Budweiser, consisting of players from the Marlins' 2003 World Series title team. The “teal takeover” will take place at 7 p.m. ET. on the Marlins' Facebook page and YouTube channel. At the same time, Fox Sports Florida will replay Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

Members of the 2003 team that will be on the virtual chat are Gonzalez, Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Todd Hollandsworth, Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, Mike Mordecai, Brad Penny and Juan Pierre.

“The energy, the confidence that we had, it started right before the All-Star Game, and after the All-Star Game,” Gonzalez said. “[From that point] we had the best record in the Major Leagues that year.”

The Marlins at one point in that season were 10 games under .500. But after May 22, they went 72-42, which was the best record during that stretch in the Majors. They finished 91-71, good enough for the National League Wild Card.

Batting mostly eighth that season, Gonzalez had a slash line of .256/.313/.443 with 18 home runs and 77 RBIs. But he never allowed his postseason offensive struggles to carry over to his defense.

“Whatever you did in the regular season, that’s in the past,” Gonzalez said. “Those numbers don’t count. It doesn’t matter if I went 4-for-4 and I made two errors and we lost the game. So, what counts? The errors. Everybody would be talking about the errors.”

As it turned out, Gonzalez came through again at the plate in the Marlins' Game 6 clincher.

With the game scoreless in the fifth inning, Gonzalez laced a two-out single off Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte. Two batters later, he raced home from second and used an acrobatic move to avoid catcher Jorge Posada before swiping the plate with his hand to score the game’s first -- and only needed -- run.

Breaking down the play 17 years later, Gonzalez noted that New York right fielder Karim Garcia, who had a strong arm, was not very deep. Garcia made an accurate throw to Posada, who was slightly up the first-base line. That gave Gonzalez a path to the back of the plate, and he took it.

“I don’t know why he didn’t block home plate,” Gonzalez said. “He stepped forward to get the ball, and he left home plate open.”

The Marlins added a second run in the sixth inning, and that was all Beckett needed to blank the Yanks and close out the Fall Classic.

“We had the speed, we had the power, we had the defense, we had the pitching,” Gonzalez said. “We put that all together when we needed it."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.