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Nice piece in the SF Gate


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Marlins still talking about breaks they got


What do Jose Cruz Jr. and Steve Bartman have in common?


Bad glove work at a bad time.


The Florida Marlins are the defending World Series champs partly because Cruz and Bartman botched flyballs at crucial moments in the playoffs, providing for dramatic momentum switches and wild Marlin comebacks.


Four months later, as the Marlins regroup at their spring training facility and are asked more about 2003 than 2004, they have no qualms about taking full advantage of the silver-platter breaks they received from the less fortunate.


"We weren't a team that sat back and waited for the three-run homer," Jeff Conine said. "We had to do the little things correctly to capitalize on other teams' mistakes."


Conine was the guy who hit that lazy fly to Cruz in right field during the Division Series. With apologies to Giants' fans who'd rather forget a second annual postseason nightmare, Cruz prematurely closed his glove and let the ball bounce loose. He later won a Gold Glove Award for his fine defense in the regular season, but he'll never shake his playoff misplay in the 11th inning of Game 3.


The Marlins had trailed 3-2 entering the inning, but Ivan Rodriguez's two- run single won the game for the Marlins.


The next day, they won the series.


"My first thought is it's going foul, so I'm jogging to first base," Conine recalled on Wednesday. "Then it's not fading as much as I thought it would. When the ball pops out of his glove, I want to throw up because I could've had second base.


"You look at that play, and it's caught 999 times out of 1,000. He dropped it. At the time, it was probably the biggest play ever in the careers of everyone in our locker room. It gave us a break. It was huge.


"If I were in that same situation (as Cruz), I'd be breaking something. You feel bad for the guy because he's a good guy and good player. But I don't feel bad about the situation because look where we ended up."


In the next round, the Marlins faced elimination in Game 6. Again, good fortune came their way, this time in the form of a financial-services worker who interfered with Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. Bartman then watched in horror as his beloved team self-destructed and left him as public enemy No. 1 on Chicago's North Side.


Luis Castillo hit the ball and, after the reprieve, drew a walk. Thanks also to an error by Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who muffed an inning-ending double-play grounder, the Marlins scored eight runs and won 8-3.


The next day, they won the series -- then beat the Yankees for the whole shebang.


"If he wants to watch our first game, the Marlins should give him tickets, " Castillo said of Bartman. "He was a big key for us."


They haven't forgotten in Chicago. A restaurateur purchased the deflected ball for $113,824 and plans to have it destroyed tonight in a nationally televised ceremony, in the process hoping to exorcise the team's long-standing curse. No World Series since 1945. No World Series title since 1908.


Castillo, who was teased by Alou and Sammy Sosa after the Cubs took a 3-1 advantage, got the last laugh on his fellow Dominicans. He recently told them to go to spring training and practice catching balls against the seats in foul territory "because maybe it will happen again."


While Cruz is in Tampa Bay and Bartman is in hiding, the Marlins are yukking it up while awaiting their ring ceremony in early April. Meantime, they're faced with the challenge of repeating. Don't count on it. The last National League team to win two straight World Series was the 1975-76 Reds.


In fact, the Marlins aren't even expected to finish first or second in the NL East, where the Braves and Phillies are favored. Without Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Juan Encarnacion from their lineup and Mark Redman, Ugueth Urbina and Braden Looper from their pitching staff, the Marlins are where they were at this time last year.




Fortunately for them, their rotation still includes World Series hero Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano and Dontrelle Willis, the East Bay lefty who spent most of the offseason in the Miami area and worked on easing his extreme windup, aiming for a more fluid leg kick and better control.


"Maybe the change of personnel is not going to bond together like last year's team," manager Jack McKeon said. "Everybody hopes it'll happen, but there's no guarantee.


"To see the camaraderie, I doubt I could ever manage a team similar to that. It's not that easy."


It helps to get breaks along the way.


Nice article.

Check out the part I highlighted. Does that describe the team last year (and hopefully this year) or what?

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