The World Series just sort of ended, didn't it? One minute we were settling in for the inevitable Yankees rally in the ninth inning, and the next the Marlins were jumping all over each other, the New Yorkers gone in the ninth without so much as a loud foul.
It wasn't quite anti-climactic, the Marlins' 2-0 win in Game 6 Saturday to wrap up their second World Series title in seven years. The last out, a weak roller up the first base line by Jorge Posada, was the climax of a magnificent pitching performance. The dribbler was fielded by Josh Beckett, the author of that five-hit shutout. He tagged Posada going by and that was it. The Yankees comeback you just knew was coming was never going to come.
Those who questioned Florida manager Jack McKeon's decision to start Beckett on three days' rest -- your humble servant included -- looked like shrill know-nothings in light of the result. Knifing through the Yankees lineup inning after inning, mixing mid-90s fastballs with high-80s changeups and nasty slow curves and never letting a man in pinstriped pajamas as far as third base, Beckett made it clear he was just fine where others had failed -- starters working on short rest were 6-20 with a 5.93 earned-run average in the last five postseasons. Beckett was 23 years old and on a roll. He could rest from Sunday until February.
When it was over and those ugly championship hats and T-shirts had been handed out, the Marlins hoisted Beckett, the Series MVP, onto their shoulders. Seeing him riding up there for a few seconds reminded me how rare that chestnut of a gesture is, the hero riding on his teammates' shoulders. That's partly because it's such a corny, old-fashioned move, akin to shouting, "Let's have three cheers for Joe! Hip-hip ..." But it's also rare for a game to have a single, clear-cut hero.
This one did. The Marlins pushed across two runs against Andy Pettitte, the first thanks to a clutch hit by slumping Luis Castillo and a brilliant slide at the plate by Alex Gonzalez, the second an unearned run that Pettitte might have prevented by throwing to third on a key bunt play. Two runs aren't enough to beat the Yankees or anybody else most nights, but most nights you don't get a pitching performance they'll be talking about in 50 years. Beckett was that good.
"You know," McKeon said wryly after the game, "Josh Beckett did a tremendous job despite the fact that he did it on three days rest."
We doubters deserved that shot, even those of us who think McKeon merely got away with a bad decision.
And so the offseason begins, one in which wary Marlins fans will wait to see if owner Jeffrey Loria will keep his word and not break up the team, which is what happened the last time the Marlins won the Series, in 1997. There are legions of former baseball fans in Montreal, site of Loria's destruction of the Expos, who will say you have to wait longer than a single offseason before you see Loria keep his word on anything.
On the other side, this is the third straight year the Yankees haven't won the championship, if you can just imagine such a state of affairs, and owner George Steinbrenner has been acting like his old impatient, impetuous self all season. Manager Joe Torre, who has helmed this eight-year run that's netted six pennants and four titles, is making noises about leaving, and the Boss is making noises about holding the door for him. Torre is the only skipper of the three-decade Steinbrenner era who's managed to achieve consistent, sustained success. Even if the Yanks make smart moves to solve the looming problems on their pitching staff, letting him get away looks like a good way ensure more years without the commissioner handing over his trophy.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
The final Zelasko watch [PERMALINK]
Following a fairly down-to-earth introduction thing narrated by Gene Hackman, whose connection to the World Series is that he has a new movie to promote, Jeanne Zelasko stepped in with a corny double play on words as part of the commercial tie-in, but otherwise played it pretty low-key again Saturday in her broadcast opening for Game 6:
"Gene Hackman's 'Runaway Jury' is in theaters now," she began, "but on this stage tonight we ask, Will the Marlins run away with the championship?" The run away bit is obvious, but did you catch "in theaters" and "on this stage"? Referring to the postseason, or the World Series, or the month of October, as a "stage" is a favorite device of Zelasko's. I think that's a metaphor. I'll have to check my English book.
Anyway, here's the rest of the Game 6 intro, starting with a sentence that I listened to four times. I'm sure I transcribed it correctly but I have no idea what it means: "In six World Series under Joe Torre the Yankees have faced elimination and only once lost. While the Stripes are on the brink in the Bronx tonight, a place where baseball's tradition has resided for a century, a place where you either get crushed by history or make it. The Marlins are one win from the most unlikely World Series triumph. For the Yankees, it's simple: Get the job done or watch someone else celebrate on their field."
Zelasko may have been tiring as the Series went on. The prose was as purple as ever toward the end but the clichés weren't coming as hot and heavy as they had before the first few games.
Zelasko made an astounding postgame comeback, though. Right out of the box in her trophy-presentation interview with Loria, she proved that she doesn't need a script to torture viewers with her tortured syntax. Oh, gosh, now I'm doing it.
"What a fight your team put up," she said to Loria. "You traveled through a land of Giants, you survived a curse, corralled a goat, stared mystique and aura right in the face. Incredible that you're standing here, maybe one of the best-kept secrets in baseball this season, but you saw this coming."
Perhaps a contest is in order. How would Jeanne Zelasko open the broadcast for different events down through history? What clichés and strained metaphors would she employ to introduce the first Super Bowl? The second Louis-Schmeling fight? The Hamilton-Burr duel? Send me your best Zelasko imitation, 150 words maximum, introducing the historical event of your choice. Put "Zelasko contest" in the subject line. The winner, decided by me alone, will be rewarded with something of very little or no value, most likely publication in this column.
Together, we'll get through this offseason somehow.
- - - - - - - - - - - -