The Fish That Ate New York

Times Staff Writer

The ground ball was a meek one, the last act of the season for an overpaid and overrated team. The pitcher retrieved the ball and simply tagged out the hitter, without even bothering to throw to first base.

Let there be no doubt: The Florida Marlins were the best team in the major leagues this year. The season concluded in spectacular fashion Saturday, when Josh Beckett silenced the New York Yankees, 55,773 fans and a city raised on Yankee mythology.

The World Series championship trophy will be displayed in a boat parade this year, not a ticker-tape parade. Beckett toyed with the Yankees, firing a five-hit complete game and a 2-0 shutout that delivered the World Series championship to the Marlins.


The Marlins, the first team to clinch a postseason series at Yankee Stadium since the 1981 Dodgers, danced on the hallowed field, retreated into the clubhouse to spill champagne atop one another, then returned to celebrate with friends and family, even after the Yankees shut the field lights at midnight. The Yankee Stadium ghosts are out of business.

“There’s no damn ghosts here,” Florida pitcher Chad Fox said. “We spooked their butts out of here.”

The Marlins might get around to winning a division title sometime, but why bother? They have entered the playoffs twice, as the National League wild-card team, and they won the World Series both times.

“They don’t know what intimidation is,” New York Manager Joe Torre said.

The Marlins won 102 games, playoffs included. They beat Kerry Wood and Mark Prior -- on consecutive nights, on the road -- to advance to the World Series.

The Yankees puffed up on the likes of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Detroit Tigers to qualify for the playoffs and advanced to the World Series only after Boston Manager Grady Little, five outs away from victory in the American League championship series, abdicated his responsibility to Pedro Martinez.

In the visiting clubhouse Saturday night, Jeff Conine smiled broadly as he spoke of pitching in “to make the lowly Florida Marlins world champions again.” In the home clubhouse, the Yankees struggled to accept defeat at the hands of the lowly Florida Marlins.


Said Yankee captain Derek Jeter: “They beat the Giants. They beat the Cubs. They beat the Yankees. I think that tells you how good they are. Whether they’re better than us, they’re the champions right now.”

Beckett, 23, making a mockery of concerns over his pitching on short rest, became the first National League pitcher to throw a shutout in a World Series clincher since Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, for the 1965 Dodgers. He struck out nine Saturday and 47 in the playoffs, tying a postseason record set by future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.

And he beat the Yankees, after Martinez failed to do so twice in the championship series. In 16 1/3 innings, the World Series MVP gave up two runs and eight hits while striking out 19.

“Josh Beckett was unbelievably great,” Torre said.

“I see a dominant pitcher for a long time,” Conine said. “You talk about Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. He’s right there with them -- except he’s got a ring.”

He dominated at the essential moments, stopping the Yankees cold after the Marlins seized the momentum. In the fifth inning, after Luis Castillo drove in the game’s first run with the last of three two-out singles, the Yankees got the tying run into scoring position with one out. But Beckett got Alfonso Soriano to pop up and then struck out Jeter on a 97-mph fastball.

In the sixth inning, after the Marlins concocted a run on an error by Jeter, a walk, bunt and sacrifice fly, Beckett blew through the Yankees in the bottom of the inning, striking out Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui on vicious curveballs.


He struck out two more in the seventh, induced a double play to end the eighth and worked a perfect ninth. His teammates, at least, were jittery as they counted down the outs.

“I got goose bumps,” first baseman Derrek Lee said. “It was surreal. I was almost floating out there.”

As the Marlins thrust Beckett atop their shoulders and carried him off the field, the long and cold Yankee winter started. The firings will commence shortly. Owner George Steinbrenner will want to know why he spent a record $180 million for a World Series roster that included no trusted middle relievers, Karim Garcia as the right fielder and overmatched third baseman Aaron Boone, who cost the Yankees their lone blue-chip prospect in trade.

The Marlins won weirdly. Their owner, Jeffrey Loria, ran the Montreal Expos into the ground, and Commissioner Bud Selig told him last year to take over the lowly Marlins or get out of baseball.

They lost their jewel of a starter, A.J. Burnett, to Tommy John surgery in April. They fired their manager and pitching coach in May. They were in last place in June.

In January, they signed 10-time All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez for $10 million, an apparent paint job on a wreck. And yet, in October, there he was, cradling a championship trophy for the first time.


“This is the best thing ever,” he said, “to hold this in my hands.”





* Marlins: Andy Pettitte pitching. Juan Pierre popped to shortstop. Luis Castillo struck out looking. Ivan Rodriguez singled to center. Miguel Cabrera grounded to the pitcher. No runs, one hit, one left. Marlins 0, Yankees 0.

* Yankees: Josh Beckett pitching. Derek Jeter struck out looking. Nick Johnson flied to right. Bernie Williams doubled to center. Hideki Matsui flied to right. No runs, one hit, one left. Marlins 0, Yankees 0.


* Marlins: Jeff Conine flied to left. Mike Lowell doubled to right. Derrek Lee struck out swinging. Juan Encarnacion struck out swinging. No runs, one hit, one left. Marlins 0, Yankees 0.

* Yankees: Jorge Posada struck out looking. Jason Giambi walked. Karim Garcia forced Giambi. Aaron Boone struck out swinging. No runs, no hits, one left. Marlins 0, Yankees 0.


* Marlins: Alex Gonzalez grounded to third. Pierre walked. Castillo forced Pierre. Rodriguez flied to right. No runs, no hits, one left. Marlins 0, Yankees 0.

* Yankees: Alfonso Soriano singled to center. Jeter grounded to second, Soriano taking second. Johnson walked. Williams grounded into a double play. No runs, one hit, one left. Marlins 0, Yankees 0.



* Marlins: Cabrera struck out swinging. Conine flied to center. Lowell grounded to shortstop. No runs, no hits. Marlins 0, Yankees 0

* Yankees: Matsui flied to center. Posada struck out swinging. Giambi flied to left. No runs, no hits. Marlins 0, Yankees 0.


* Marlins: Lee struck out swinging. Encarnacion grounded to third. Gonzalez singled to center. Pierre singled to center, Gonzalez stopping at second. Castillo singled to right, Gonzalez scoring, Pierre taking third. Rodriguez was walked intentionally. Cabrera struck out swinging. One run, three hits, three left. Marlins 1, Yankees 0.

* Yankees: Garcia singled to right. Boone sacrificed. Soriano popped to third. Jeter struck out swinging. No runs, one hit, one left. Marlins 1, Yankees 0.


* Marlins: Conine reached safely on shortstop Jeter’s throwing error. Lowell walked. Lee, bunting, forced Lowell, Conine taking third. Encarnacion hit a sacrifice fly to right, Conine scoring. Gonzalez bunted safely to third, Lee stopping at second. Pierre struck out swinging. One run, one hit, one error, two left. Marlins 2, Yankees 0.

* Yankees: Johnson flied to right. Williams struck out looking. Matsui struck out swinging. No runs, no hits. Marlins 2, Yankees 0.



* Marlins: Castillo lined to third. Rodriguez grounded to the pitcher. Cabrera flied to right. No runs, no hits. Marlins 2, Yankees 0

* Yankees: Posada doubled to left. Giambi grounded to third. Garcia struck out looking. Ruben Sierra, pinch-hitting for Boone, struck out swinging. No runs, one hit, one left. Marlins 2, Yankees 0.


* Marlins: Mariano Rivera pitching. Enrique Wilson at third. Sierra in right. Conine grounded to the pitcher. Lowell singled to third. Lee struck out swinging. Encarnacion forced Lowell. No runs, one hit, one left. Marlins 2, Yankees 0.

* Yankees: Soriano singled to left. Jeter flied to center. Johnson grounded into a double play. No runs, one hit. Marlins 2, Yankees 0.


* Marlins: Gonzalez flied to center. Pierre, bunting foul with two strikes, called out. Castillo lined to short. No runs, no hits. Marlins 2, Yankees 0.

* Yankees: Williams flied to left. Matsui flied to left. Posada grounded to the pitcher. No runs, no hits. Marlins 2, Yankees 0.