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Belief rises like sun


PBMarlin
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Posted on Thu, Feb. 26, 2004

 

Belief rises like sun

 

JUPITER -- Last we left Marlins pitcher Josh Beckett, at the center of his October, the defiance was leaking out of him with a radiator's angry hiss.

 

Yankee Stadium was emptying all around him, in the quietest New York you've ever heard, and Beckett allowed himself a moment amid the delirium to watch Yankee fans flee as if something near them had caught fire.

 

All around Beckett near that mound, jubilant Marlins teammates bobbed and screamed and sang and hugged, but the man at the center of this celebration hit the pause button on the joy to bare his teeth and reveal the raw, rabid side of a champion. ''Go [bleeping] home,'' Beckett spat through curses at New York's fans. ``We're going to have a [bleeping] parade. Have a nice [bleeping] offseason.''

 

This is what all the doubt and disbelief brought out of the Marlins last season.

 

The very best.

 

And it made them nothing less than the finest baseball team in the world, better than even the most expensive team in the history of sports.

 

But here we are again now, in the very same place.

 

''We were a mirage,'' third baseman Mike Lowell says, punching his glove, smiling.

 

''Yep,'' Jeff Conine says with a smirk. ``A fluke.''

 

Tucked between green grass and a gray sky, the most perfect South Florida sports story since 1972 is resuming as an oxymoron -- underdog champion. And, through Marlins eyes still bloodshot from celebration, that's almost as perfect as the end of last season -- because when you add ''dis'' to ''belief'' with this team you get the kind of disbelief you saw in a Yankee Stadium so quiet you could hear a chin drop.

 

AGAINST ALL ODDS

 

''Doesn't anyone remember that we had the best record in all of Major League Baseball since May?'' Conine asks. ``That's not a few weeks. That's more than half the season.''

 

Still, the offseason headlines have gone to other teams, the ones acquiring jewels while everyone forgets who it is that owns the entire crown. The Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies and Cubs and Astros? They've spent the past couple of months talking about how much better they are now while the Marlins have waved their soon-to-be-bejeweled hands and screamed, ``Yoo hoo! Remember us? Over here? You know, the champions?''

 

Conine, for one, has gone trolling through magazines and the Internet looking for someone, anyone, who picks the Marlins to win this season and he still hasn't found a soul outside his clubhouse who believes. There are places in Las Vegas that will give you better odds on Arizona and Minnesota winning the World Series than the defending champion returning with its starting staff intact.

 

ESPN asked 10 writers to rank the best teams in baseball; only two even had the Marlins in their top 10. But, hey, it's not like the Marlins did anything to inspire belief, right? It's not like they ended the seasons of Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa last season. Not like they rallied against Mark Prior and Kerry Wood on the road. Not like they beat the New York Freaking Yankees.

 

''What more would you have liked us to do?'' Conine asks. ``Beat Babe Ruth and the 1927 Yankees, too?''

 

Said Lowell: ``Doubted again. Just like we like it. We'll be extremely disappointed if we don't make the playoffs. That's cool. No pressure, no expectations.''

 

ALL THE LUCK

 

Yes, an absurd amount of good went Florida's way last season, especially late, everything from balls bouncing out of outfield gloves to plays at the plate. And just about every starter and pitcher either met his career averages or exceeded them, which is exceptionally rare and doubtful to be reproduced.

 

But there are ways Florida can win more this season. Unlike last season, the Marlins are getting full seasons from Conine, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, A.J. Burnett and Chad Fox. Armando Benitez will be better than Ugueth Urbina. It shouldn't surprise anyone if Ramon Castro, an exceptionally underrated bat, gives you more homers and RBI than dearly departed Pudge Rodriguez (Derek Lee's bat will be harder to replace than Rodriguez's).

 

And Beckett ought to be a pitcher who, as he says now, ''can do it over an entire season instead of just an October.'' Beckett is the young, unshaven face of this team now, all swagger and confidence. He is completely unafraid, as he showed you with such elegance last October. He is great at least partially because he knows he is, and he carries this with a casual arrogance that has now, finally, been earned.

 

And he knows that the A's win about 100 games every year, no matter what bats around them, because of the strength of their starting staff.

 

''We're going to be very good again,'' he promises.

 

You ought to believe that. Because a lot of teams have hope as spring training opens all over America. But only one of them has proof.

 

Not sure who penned it, but sure is a nice departure from the usual negative bias we expect from the Herald.

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And just about every starter and pitcher either met his career averages or exceeded them, which is exceptionally rare and doubtful to be reproduced.

 

Redman and Lowell did.

Who else? Pierre? Gonzalez? Castillo? Beckett? Penny? Pavano (ooh, career highs in games started and innings pitched!)?

 

I like our chances.

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