Jump to content



Recommended Posts



Five Reasons to Pick the Marlins

By Alan Schwarz

Special to ESPN.com


My assignment, now that I've chosen to accept it, is to come up with five reasons to like the Marlins in the rough-and-tumble National League wild-card scrum, which starts to crescendo with Florida at Philadelphia tonight. There are plenty of reasons to root against the Phillies (OK, just one -- Veterans Stadium) but thinking of five to support their main competition was surprisingly easy. Without further ado:



It's easy to get pumped about rookie lefty Dontrelle Willis.


1. Don't derail the D-Train

How can you not like a kid who once spray-painted a strike zone on the side of his mother's house so he could play "strikeout" and practice his high leg kick with his friends? How can you not like watching a pitcher with more arms and legs than a prosthesis factory? How can you not like a guy who bends at so many angles he could audition for Plastic Man and Stretch Armstrong's sidekick from the 'hood?


Forget Willis' four-game losing streak through most of August, when his ERA rose from 2.56 to 3.39. He has beaten the Expos and Braves his last two starts and now stands 13-6, 3.27. He'll face the Phillies on Thursday night.


If you don't like watching Dontrelle Willis pitch, you don't like cool, fall breezes -- just like what he could bring to these playoffs. I asked Willis last week how he handled his slide, his first failure in the major leagues, and he laughed. "I want to win, of course, but man -- you can't complain about struggling in the major leagues. I'm 21 years old. You know how many people would kill to struggle here?"


2. Gutsy front office

Look around -- you won't find many clubs who were more creative the past 12 months than the Marlins.


How many low-revenue clubs would have pulled off getting Ivan Rodriguez for one year? How many would have been able to dump the contracts of Charles Johnson and Preston Wilson, and then most of Mike Hampton's? How many would have felt comfortable getting Juan Pierre in the deal, having correctly evaluated that his skills would translate just fine going from Coors Field to Pro Player Stadium?


Remember when we all scoffed at Florida's acquiring Ugueth Urbina just before the All-Star break, while the club was anonymously hovering around .500 in the middle of the National League pack -- and then saying he wouldn't even close? Urbina has been fantastic setting up for Braden Looper, posting a 1.15 ERA.


Hats off to general manager Admin Beinfest and the rest of the Marlins front office for taking a club that had no business contending and giving their (however few) fans one heck of a season, wild card or not.






3. Jack McKeon's really old

Forget the fact that Jack McKeon, who on May 10 replaced Jeff Torborg when the Marlins were flapping around at 16-22, has gone 67-44 since taking over. You just have to like a team whose manager is so old, he was born in November 1930 when Herbert Hoover was still insisting the economy would, you know, improve. You have to like a team whose manager is so old that his middle name is "Aloysius."


You have to like a team whose manager is so old, he started managing in the minors in 1955, before children had heard of a polio vaccine -- and when fellow minor-league managers included the likes of Pepper Martin, Dolf Luque (who pitched for the Reds team that won the fixed 1919 World Series) and Lefty O'Doul.


Jack McKeon is so old, he managed Missoula's 1958 entry in the Class C Pioneer League, whose top lefty led the loop with 245 strikeouts and a 2.99 ERA -- Jim Kaat. Jack McKeon is so old, he managed in Dallas and Atlanta before they were major-league markets.


And consider this: Willie Mays was on deck when Bobby Thomson hit his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951. Jack McKeon is older than Willie Mays. Harvey Kuenn led the American League with 209 hits 50 years ago. Jack McKeon is older than Harvey Kuenn. And Johnny Podres is renowned throughout Brooklyn for winning Game 7 of the 1955 World Series to bring Flatbush fans their only championship. Jack McKeon is older than Johnny Podres.


4. The starting rotation

Marlins followers have noted that Florida's starting rotation has not only stayed intact through the summer -- since June 28, the same five pitchers have made every start: Willis, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano, Mark Redman and Josh Beckett.


This is remarkable, considering the shambles that the Marlins' pitching staff was in one month into the season. It wasn't so long ago that staff ace A.J. Burnett was lost for this season (and probably next) to elbow surgery after four starts; Redman broke his thumb trying a squeeze bunt and went on the disabled list; and Beckett, the team's top building block, went on the DL for two months with a sprained elbow. Soon Torborg and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg were fired in part for leaving the club with fewer arms than the Venus De Milo.


The addition of Willis, McKeon and new pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal seems to have turned everything around. Penny (13-10), Pavano (11-11) and Redman (12-9) have all either set or tied career highs in wins. And Beckett, who returned in early July, is throwing like the power-pitching phenom he has been advertised to be: He is 5-3, 2.27 since the All-Star break, giving up just a .228 opponents batting average with control that Kerry Wood would kill for.


Florida got a scare last week when Penny had to leave Friday's start against Atlanta in the first inning because of elbow pain and underwent an MRI. (And not conventionally: At 255 pounds, he was too big to fit in the tube.) Tests revealed a hyperextended elbow, minor enough to push him back just a few days and let him start against Atlanta again this Saturday.


5. Storybook ending

You want drama? Willis is slated to start the final game of the season, when the entire year could come down to one game against the Mets. But he could also enjoy the benefit of a certain bat once written off: Mike Lowell.


Lowell's left hand was broken by a pitch from Expos reliever Hector Almonte on Aug. 30, and his offense -- he was leading the club with 32 homers and 105 RBI when he went down -- was immediately believed to be lost for the rest of the season. But his early rehab work has been so successful that the third baseman is holding out hope that he could return for the final two games.


Imagine Lowell pinch-hitting in a final, season-deciding game, his only at-bat coming after a month off. Maybe it ain't Hank Greenberg returning to the Tigers in 1945 after four years in the army, and hitting home runs left and right to help them win the pennant. But you know what?


We couldn't ask for more. Kind of like the Marlins themselves this whole crazy season.


Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This topic is now closed to further replies.

  • Create New...