JMLinkinPark Posted September 14, 2003 Share Posted September 14, 2003 League, Not Fans, Noticing Marlins JOE HENDERSON Published: Sep 14, 2003 Today's Mortgage Rates Online Mortgage Calculators Free Online Pre-approval Apply Online It would probably take the casual baseball fan a while to figure this one out, so we'll save you the bother. The team with the majors' best record for almost the past four months is ... Florida? Yep. The Marlins were a big- league best 62-36 since May 23 as they headed into the weekend. That miraculous run has gone largely ignored in South Florida, where the Marlins' attendance at Pro Player Stadium stands at barely more than 1 million, an average of 14,672 fans per game - 13th in the National League. The rest of the league has noticed, however. The Marlins have surged to the forefront of the NL wild-card chase and could bring postseason ball to Miami for just the second time. ``A lot of us have been here five or six years, and September has always been when you're making offseason plans,'' 1B Derrek Lee said. ``But right now we're in it, and this is what the game is all about, trying to get into the playoffs and win a championship.'' The Marlins would be a dangerous team for anyone in the playoffs. Their team ERA ranks fourth in the league and there are no soft spots in the rotation. Four of the starters have double figures wins, and Josh Beckett, the staff ERA leader at 2.98, could make it five with two more wins. The Marlins have shown a champion's resiliency, too. They got back in the race after a slow start that resulted in the firing of Manager Jeff Torborg, then shook off a potentially devastating injury to 3B Mike Lowell. Lowell was supposed to be finished for the year after he broke his right hand, but he now believes he can return by the end of the month in time for the playoffs - if the Marlins qualify. ``I totally expect that if we're in the playoffs, I can play in the first round. I'm even hoping maybe the last four or five games [of the regular season],'' Lowell said. Florida hasn't been in the playoffs since 1997, when it won the World Series but disgraced baseball when then- owner Wayne Huizenga dismantled his championship team. Attendance plummeted to the point of absurdity in Miami, and there's still no real prospect for the new stadium the club needs. But the Marlins have endured and become one of the on-field success stories in baseball this season. Heres another Article. Willis is good, but Cabrera top Marlins rookie By Dave George, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Sunday, September 14, 2003 Russ Ortiz, the National League's winningest pitcher, never knew what hit him Saturday night, or if the pounding would ever end. He actually got a visit on the mound from Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone before a single Florida batter had been retired. That's how you know the Marlins are becoming a genuine annoyance. More so than in 1997, really. That team was loaded with mercenary talent, and with a big-time payroll to match. The 2003 Marlins are more like the kids down the street, too noisy to ignore, too rambunctious to know when it's time to go home, too familiar for us to see just how much they are growing up right before our eyes. Did you know, for instance, that shortstop Alex Gonzalez has a career-high 72 RBI from the No. 8 spot in Jack McKeon's lineup, or that leadoff batter Juan Pierre has more hits in a season than any player in franchise history? And did you know, most amazing of all, that Dontrelle Willis isn't even a slam dunk as the most exciting rookie on the team anymore? I know, that last one stings a little. Willis, who beat the first-place Braves 8-3 Saturday with six fairly mediocre innings, brought pure magic to the mound when he joined the team in May. It's no betrayal, however, to shift a little of the attention to third baseman Miguel Cabrera, a Jupiter Hammerhead this time last year. That 20 on his back isn't just a uniform number. It's his age, too. Sometimes it shows, like when he was struggling through a 1-for-33 hitting slump at August's tail end. Sometimes it doesn't, such as when the extra-base hits start flying off his bat in bunches. There were three of those Saturday, a first-inning home run that capped a six-run rally against Ortiz, plus two doubles. In all, 34 of Cabrera's 69 hits this season have gone for extra bases, beginning with the 11th-inning home run he hit to beat Tampa Bay in his June 20 major-league debut. The Venezuelan also has 53 RBI in what amounts to half a season. Let's take it one step further, this tribute to a fresh talent who came up strictly through the Marlins' farm system and not down through the free-agent money chute. If Mike Lowell were able to return for a Marlins post-season that seems increasingly likely, it shouldn't be Cabrera who sits down. Trusty veteran Jeff Conine would do the team more good by vacating left field if nothing changes, and letting M.C. hammer away into October. "I feel good when I step to the plate," Cabrera said, "and I carry it with me through the whole game. When runners are on base, in some way it helps me to concentrate. It's all gone very quickly for me. Thank God I got the chance to play this year." Thank McKeon, too, for teaching his rookies that a playoff run is as good a place as any for a little on-the-job training. Saturday night, an enormous crowd of 40,414, the largest for a Marlins home game in two seasons, reveled in the promotional giveaway of a bobble-head doll. The bouncy figure inside the box was a representation of Craig Counsell, a rookie himself during the Marlins' World Series year and the player who had the thrill of scoring the trophy-clinching run in the 11th inning of Game 7. "Miguel and Dontrelle simply have the mental toughness that enables them to jump into that big role and not be intimidated by it," McKeon said. "It's unique to have two guys like that on one team." And quite commonplace, it seems, for Florida to rip off seven straight wins every now and then. The Marlins are growing up, all right, and even the mighty Braves and the fading Phillies seem unsure what to do about it. 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