Look back on Marlins' 2003 WS-winning season

May 25th, 2020

“Winners are like biscuits. When things get hot, they rise to the occasion.” -- Jack McKeon

MIAMI -- The tale of the 2003 Marlins’ World Series season begins with an old school manager inheriting an underachieving group of mostly new school players and ultimately guiding them on an improbable championship run.

The climb to the top wasn’t an easy one, and the relationship between the then-72-year-old manager Jack McKeon and his comparatively untested roster wasn’t always a smooth one. Still, the Marlins somehow found a way to shock the sports world.

McKeon, the oldest manager in MLB history to lead his team to a World Series title, wasn’t afraid to push his players or take risks. His biggest gamble ended up cementing his legacy in Marlins history.

In Game 6 of the World Series, McKeon rolled the dice and went with ace on three days' rest against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. With the Marlins leading the series, 3-2, McKeon didn’t want to chance a Game 7 on the road in a historic setting. Eager to close the series out, McKeon went with Beckett.

Beckett, then 23, made the move look brilliant by blanking the Yankees, 2-0, and giving the Marlins their second World Series title.

"It was a good group of guys," Beckett said in 2015 on a day the Marlins honored their former right-hander. "We knew we were good. We just weren't playing good at the time [early in the season]. We obviously took off. I don't think anybody was that surprised who knew what kind of guys we had in here."

Had the World Series gone to Game 7, would have gotten the nod.

"I've got to go with my best," McKeon said in 2015. "I can't get the Yankees to go to Game 7. I'm not about to give the sixth game away. If they're going to beat us in six, I've got another guy, Pavano, who will go on three days' rest. I know the mystique of the Yankees. If they get a chance to go to Game 7, something was going to happen to them. I was going to make sure it didn't."

McKeon brought his no-nonsense approach to an underachieving team on May 11, when he inherited a Marlins club that started off 16-22 and was seemingly heading nowhere with Jeff Torborg as manager.

On the first day with his new team, McKeon made it clear that things were going to be run differently. He declared as much in his introductory meeting, where he essentially lashed out at the players and challenged them to be better.

Still, the results weren’t immediate, because the Marlins fell to 19-29 on May 22.

By that point, the rotation was minus hard-throwing , who made just four starts that season and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery. Beckett, who was so great late in the season, went on the injured list for five weeks beginning on May 9 due to a mild right elbow sprain.

After those sluggish first two months, the Marlins miraculously went 72-42 -- the best record in the Majors -- from May 23 to the end of the season.

The Marlins finished 91-71, and they claimed the Wild Card ahead of the Astros.

Throughout the season, McKeon used discipline to keep his players focused. At one point, he locked the clubhouse door after seeing starters Beckett and hanging out, rather than staying in the dugout.

“In between innings, they’d go to the clubhouse to get a drink or hang out,” McKeon told the Palm Beach Post in 2011. “I said, 'Hey, I got no rule against going up if you have to go to the bathroom or something, but get back.'

“A couple of times, I looked down the bench to talk to somebody and they weren’t there. They were in the clubhouse. So I went up and got them out and said, ‘OK boys, that’s it. We’ll lock the door.'"

The rotation received a major boost on May 9, when , the high-energy left-hander with a high leg kick, was promoted from Double-A at age 21.

Willis was an instant sensation and introduced “D-Train Mania” every time he took the mound in South Florida. He became an All-Star and was the National League Rookie of the Year Award winner, going 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA in 27 starts.

A month later, the offense received a huge lift when , then a 20-year-old, was promoted from Double-A. In his first big league game on June 20, Cabrera knocked a walk-off, two-run homer against Tampa Bay for his first big league hit.

Behind the plate, started to heat up, and he would hit .297/.369/.474 with 16 home runs, 85 RBIs and 90 runs scored. The Hall of Fame catcher was named MVP of the NL Championship Series against the Cubs.

Rodriguez repeatedly came up big in the NL Division Series against the Giants. The final out of the series came when Rodríguez held onto the ball after being knocked over by J.T. Snow at home plate in Game 4.

was an All-Star, belting 32 home runs and driving in 105 runs in 130 games. The season appeared to be lost in late August when Lowell broke his hand after being hit by a pitch. But a couple of days later, minutes before the Aug. 31 trade deadline expired, the Marlins acquired from the Orioles to help ease the loss of Lowell for the final month.

Conine made the throw from left field to Rodriguez in the NLDS to nab Snow at the plate.

The top of the order featured speedsters and .

Pierre paced the Majors in stolen bases with 65, collected 204 hits and scored 100 runs. Castillo batted .314 with 99 runs scored.

The two created havoc, and Castillo will forever be remembered for hitting the foul ball in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Left fielder Moises Alou thought he had a play on the ball, but it was deflected away by fan Steve Bartman.

The Marlins capitalized on the break. Castillo walked, and the Marlins scored eight runs in the inning to rally for a stunning 8-3 victory.

In the World Series, Penny won two games, and Beckett’s Game 6 heroics remains the most dominating postseason performance in franchise history.

“What Josh did was that whole Old School approach,” said FOX Sports Florida color analyst , a reserve on the 2003 squad. “He was like, ‘You're not getting the ball out of my hands.'"