Fish Fillet Posted September 16, 2003 Share Posted September 16, 2003 Win two now, and there will be more magic in Florida's season COMMENTARY | DAN LE BATARD [email protected] Magic numbers? Marlins need two wins to halt Phillies Two out of three. That's all the Marlins need to do to now. Take two of three in Philadelphia beginning tonight and you not only finish the Phillies but you also get, as a special bonus, the very real possibility that calm, reasonable, Wannstedt-ian Philadelphia manager Admin Bowa will spontaneously combust immediately, spewing lava, bile and innards all over the National League East. Baseball is our most mathematical game, and all the math tilts in Florida's favor if the Marlins take two out of three. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? If the Marlins can somehow go from Jeff Torborg's firing to 17 games over .500, if they can lose their best pitcher and best hitter and still somehow have a record just like the New York Yankees in the second half, how hard can it possibly be to take two of three from a team they have already beaten eight straight times? Answer: Very. Jim Thome has a very big bat he would like to take to all of South Florida's optimism. But, hey, it's not like Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa and Jeff Bagwell don't have big bats, too, and tiny, little Florida somehow has a better record than their teams, too. This is what winning two of three would do for the Marlins: It would put them up three in the loss column with nine games left. That means Florida, as good as any team in baseball the second half, would then have to finish 3-6 and Philadelphia would have to finish 6-3 for the Phillies to merely salvage a tie at that point. That's not going to happen. The Marlins, great at home, finish the season here with three against the Mets. While the desperate Phillies would be trying to save their season against the Braves. You want another reason to have more optimism about baseball than we have had at any time here since 1997? The Marlins have swept the Phillies the past two times they have played them, here and there. They don't have to be that good over the next three days. Two of three beginning tonight, and the Phillies are done. ''I don't understand how the Marlins are doing it,'' says Giants ace Jason Schmidt. ``That team doesn't look any different than last year's team to me.'' This is not local homerism: The surprise Marlins are the best team story in this sport, although Barry Bonds chasing his first championship at age 39 while mourning the death of his father remains the best individual one. The Royals were the game's most tantalizing tale for a while, but the numbers caught up to them. Kansas City was allowing more runs than it scored all season, and history shows those teams always finish .500 or worse. So the Royals slid back toward mediocrity while the Marlins were blessed by a magical combination of excellence, grit and good fortune. Luck helps, always, and the Marlins have had it. It isn't just because pitchers like Carl Pavano and Mark Redman and Dontrelle Willis are having the seasons of their lives, all at the same time. And it isn't just because every one of Florida's position players, every single one, is producing at either his career averages or better, without a single dud of a season in the bunch. (That doesn't happen very often, on any team. Exhibit A: The expensive Mets, where Mo Vaughn, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, Roberto Alomar and Cliff Floyd all suffered some combination of injury or failure.) It's because the breaks have been going Florida's way -- you go 1-8 on a road trip and pick up half a game in the wild-card standings? -- in a manner that makes crusty, lovable Jack McKeon look good even when he does something bad. Take the curious case of Mike Mordecai. Twice this season, McKeon has inserted the light-hitting Mordecai as a pinch-runner for Mike Lowell, his best hitter. Mordecai isn't particularly fast, mind you. And there aren't many instances when Lowell's offense should be taken out of a tight game, period. But twice McKeon has yanked him late -- once against John Smoltz and once against Eric Gagne. In other words, you have yanked your best hitter twice for a light-hitting player who isn't particularly fast in a situation against relievers that aren't going to allow Mordecai to score even if Bonds, Mantle and Mays are standing on deck together. So what happens? Mordecai doesn't score either time, of course. But he comes up both times later in the game in Lowell's spot and hits game-winning homers. Of course. The tough, emotional Marlins have a little magic in their hands, obviously. It gets much tougher after the next 12 games, believe it or not. Because the Marlins might have to go through Bonds, the Braves and the Yankees for the title. But the fact that we're even discussing it this time of year is flabbergasting. And we will be discussing it more, and louder, if the Marlins win two of their next three. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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