MIAMI -- Without the risk, the Marlins may not have experienced the ultimate reward.
To Jack McKeon, going with Josh Beckett on three days' rest was not a gamble. It was the smart move, a no-brainer when a World Series championship was on the line.
A decade ago, the then-72-year-old manager entrusted the 23-year-old kid pitcher to pull off the unimaginable at the most storied shrine in American sports.
Destiny defeated a dynasty on a chilly 56-degree night on Oct. 25, 2003.
Behind Beckett, the brash young Texan, the Marlins upstaged the powerhouse New York Yankees in their own backyard to claim the second World Series title in franchise history.
Who would have thunk it? The experts certainly didn't. But the unthinkable underdogs did.
Beckett overwhelmed the Yankees, going the distance while striking out nine in a 2-0 shutout over Andy Pettitte, who was pretty impressive himself.
Fittingly, the World Series ended with the ball in the glove of the man of the night.
Beckett's 107th and final pitch induced a soft grounder from Jorge Posada. The ball rolled harmlessly near the first-base line, where it was scooped up by the Marlins right-hander. After applying the tag, Beckett raised both hands and ascended into postseason lore.
"If you've got a chance to win it, you've got to go with your best," McKeon said. "Because if you are not going to go with your best, you're not going to win it."
A crowd of 55,773 was on hand to watch the Marlins celebrate in what turned out to be the final World Series game at the old Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees may have outscored the Marlins, 21-17, over the six games, but in the end, the Marlins had too much Beckett.
When McKeon took over as manager on May 11, 2003, following the dismissal of Jeff Torborg, All-Star third baseman Mike Lowell saw an immediate mind-set change.
"What Jack did bring, it was 'I'm not going to be patient' attitude, which our team kind of needed," Lowell said. "He pressed the right buttons."
The safe play would have been to start lefty Mark Redman, who was in line to start, in Game 6 and hold Beckett -- on full four-day rest -- for a possible Game 7.
Holding back wasn't McKeon's style, so he went with his best.
"When I asked Beckett if he could do it, he said, 'You bet,'" McKeon said. "Somebody who wants it, that's what I look for."
Still, before signing off on the idea, Beckett went out on the field and played catch to see how his arm felt. Once his body told him he was fine, the decision was an easy one for McKeon.
"I just had to get reassured from Beckett that he was mentally ready to accept this role," McKeon said.
Was he ever.
Beckett's brilliance enabled two legacies to be built. McKeon became the oldest manager to lead his team to a World Series championship, and Beckett established himself as a postseason star.
"We trusted [McKeon]," said Carl Pavano, who would have taken the mound if a Game 7 was played. "When you trust your manager, he's able to get away with more than most guys if you don't trust your manager.
"He could be brutally honest, and we knew that. None of us would get defensive. He was just trying to make us better, and he was right. He was able to disarm a lot of our egos, so we were able to put them aside, and that's tough to do throughout a season."
| "We saw the command and we saw the confidence, and we were like, 'Man, he's good. I think it was probably after the first time through the order we realized, this guy has got it. We were like, 'These guys are done.' It ended up being the case." |
|-- Mike Redmond |
Beckett's five-hitter also was the first shutout in a close-out World Series game since Jack Morris of the Twins in 1991.
Pettitte allowed two runs (one earned) while striking out seven in seven innings. Mariano Rivera tossed two scoreless innings of relief, but the pitcher of the night was Beckett.
"I remember coming into the ballpark that day, and Josh was so relaxed, and so loose," said Mike Redmond, then the Marlins' backup catcher. "We knew how confident Josh was, not only in his pitching ability, but pitching in big games."
Now the Marlins manager, Redmond recalls not being as calm as Beckett.
With so much tension at the park, between innings, Redmond and Jeff Conine went into the tunnel area to settle their nerves.
"I remember Conine and myself in the tunnel going, 'Man, this is unbelievable. These guys have got no chance,'" Redmond said.
They were telling each other, if the Marlins could scratch out one or two runs, it would be a memorable night.
"We saw the command and we saw the confidence, and we were like, 'Man, he's good,'" Redmond said. "I think it was probably after the first time through the order we realized, this guy has got it. We were like, 'These guys are done.' It ended up being the case."
Those around the Marlins all season certainly never doubted. After all, the young team wasn't supposed to even be in the playoffs, let alone reach the World Series.
The 2003 World Series was considered a mismatch for the Yankees in a number of areas. They had the more battle-tested roster, filled with champions and future Hall of Famers. They also had a league-high $164 million payroll, compared to the Marlins' $54 million budget.
The Marlins also traveled the more difficult path, advancing as the National League Wild Card in a season filled with several legitimate heavyweight contenders. The Braves ran away with the NL East, finishing 10 games ahead of the Marlins.
Atlanta was one of three clubs to win at least 100 games in '03, but the Braves were unable to get past the Cubs, winners of the NL Central. While Chicago's record might have been 88-74, the team possessed the most feared one-two starting-pitching tandem in the playoffs -- Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
In the NL Division Series, the Marlins eliminated a 100-win Giants team that featured Barry Bonds in four games.
And the Yankees matched the Braves for the best record in the game, finishing with 101 regular-season wins.
Throughout their miraculous run, the Marlins kept hearing about how they were overmatched by the more traditional clubs they were facing.
Beckett, in particular, was angered by what he believed was a lack of respect for the Marlins. He heard about the Curse of the Billy Goat against the Cubs. And at Yankee Stadium, he was repeatedly asked about standing up to the weight of Yankees tradition.
After silencing New York in Game 6, Beckett admitted he was upset at being slighted.
"Nobody thought we could do it," Beckett said on the night he was named the World Series MVP. "All I know is, we're going to get World Series rings on Opening Day next season."
The Yankees were making their sixth World Series appearance in eight years, and the Marlins were an energized collection of rising stars under the direction of a throwback cigar-smoking manager.
McKeon was called out of retirement to infuse some spirit into an underperforming collection of raw talent. When necessary, he would turn a table over in anger or get in a player's face. He believed in his best and rode them all the way deep into October.
Under McKeon, the Marlins embarked on an incredible turnaround, going 75-49 from mid-May through the rest of the way.
In the playoffs, they went on a wild ride to defeat the Giants in the NL Division Series. In heart-stopping fashion, that series was decided when catcher Ivan Rodriguez held onto Conine's throw from left field to the plate. Rodriguez absorbed a collision with J.T. Snow and triumphantly raised the ball in hand after securing the final out to clinch the series.
After falling behind, 3-1, in the NL Championship Series to the Cubs, the Marlins were involved in another playoff game for the ages. After forcing a Game 6 at Wrigley Field, they were being tamed by Prior for seven innings.
Chicago carried a three-run lead into the eighth inning, which is now known as the Steve Bartman Game. Luis Castillo lifted a foul ball down the left-field line, and Moises Alou made a leaping attempt at the wall. Bartman, like the many fans around him, reached, and the ball was deflected away from Alou, who reacted in anger.
Castillo had new life, and Cubs history once again was altered.
For the Marlins, they saw an opening and capitalized by scoring eight runs.
Considering all they went through to simply be in the World Series, Beckett's Game 6 masterpiece in the Bronx was a fitting conclusion to an improbable story.
The Marlins honored the 2003 team at Marlins Park in early August. McKeon, now 82, attended as did a number of players who have since retired.
"It looks like it happened only two or three years ago," McKeon said. "You still can't get it out of your mind. The parades, stuff like that, the celebration in Yankee Stadium, it was exciting."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro.