Watching the national league divisional series battle – in which the Cinderella Florida Marlins toppled the heavily favored and defending national league champion San Francisco Giants – brought me back to last year’s Anaheim Angels team. Like the Angels, the Florida Marlins have thrived on great team chemistry and a storybook season.
When 72-year-old skipper Jack McKeon took over the managing duties in early May, it seemed to light a spark in the lineup that has yet to be put out. The Marlins dominated the Giants in a best-of-five series, three games to one, as Bay Area fans everywhere stared in disbelief.
Maybe it was Ivan Rodriguez’s beautiful display of how the game is really supposed to be played, or the way that Juan Pierre scored nearly every time he got on base. Perhaps the Marlins’ success was due to the solid defense and timely hitting of the ageless Jeff Conine (the only player on the roster who was on the 1997 championship team), or rookie Miguel Cabrera continuing to provide clutch hit after clutch hit, or the youthful pitching staff’s insurmountable composure in late and close situations that gave this team the necessary firepower to beat the National League West champs. Any way you look at it, the Marlins are showing that they have what it takes to go all the way.
In games 3 and 4, the Marlins prevailed in triumphant fashion, mainly due to the consistency of catcher (and former American League MVP) Ivan Rodriguez. This is IROD’s first playoff appearance since the Rangers made it back in 1996 and he showed how hungry he was.
Rodriguez smacked the game winning hit in game 3, while in game 4, all he did was score the go-ahead run by knocking the ball out of Giants catcher Yorvit Torrealba’s grasp as he tried to tag Rodriguez out at the plate. Then he showed Torrealba how to play the position the right way, holding on to the ball as he tagged J.T. Snow out at the plate, ending the game and giving the Marlins a 7-6 victory and their first trip to the National League Championship Series since they won the World Series in 1997.
The Marlins have a tough road ahead facing the Chicago Cubs, who bring the one-two punch of starting pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, in the NLCS.
Their key to success lies in the ability of Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo to get on base at the top of the order. Pierre, who also led the majors in stolen bases, has proven to be one of the most explosive players in the game, and the Giants learned the hard way that you just can’t put this kid on base.
Florida needs the same stability out of starters Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Brad Penny and Carl Pavano that they provided against San Francisco. If Florida plays the same kind of ball they did in the divisional series, then they’ll pave their own road to the World Series.