Monday, August 13, 2012

2003 World Series: The One No One Wanted

The Teams
National League: Florida Marlins (91-71) - Second World Series (Won in 1997)
American League: New York Yankees (101-61) - 39th World Series (Won 26 previous times)

What Happened
It was the matchup that nobody wanted. As both the Red Sox and Cubs took the lead in the two league championship series, American baseball fans salivated over a World Series matchup between the two most cursed franchises in the sports. But then Steve Bartman happened to the Cubs and Game 7 happened to the Red Sox, and suddenly the dream matchup between the Cubs and Red Sox turned into a much-less-exciting one between the Marlins and the Yankees.

The Marlins weren't given much of a chance, partially because they simply didn't have as much talent as the Yankees, and partially because of their pedigree. I mean, the Marlins had only existed since 1993, while the Yankees had almost four times as many league championship seasons as the Marlins had total seasons.

Florida made it obvious almost immediately, though, that they weren't scared. Florida had speed to spare, and they planned to use it to their full advantage. Juan Pierre lead off the series with a bunt single, moved to third on an infield single, then scored on a sacrifice fly. Later in the game, Pierre's two-run single made it 3-1, and the Marlins held on to open the series with a win.

The Yankees did what was expected of them with big wins in Games 2 and 3, and they came back to tie Game 4 with two two-out runs in the ninth. And while giving up a lead like that would devastate many inexperienced teams, the Marlins didn't blink, stopping the bleeding and winning the game in the bottom of the 12th.

From there, it was the Marlins who seized the momentum and closed out the series with confidence. After Yankee starter David Wells left Game 5 with an injury after only one inning, the Marlins scored quickly, building a 6-1 lead before winning 6-4. Then Josh Beckett, the hero of the NLCS, ruined the 100th World Series game in Yankee Stadium history. The 23-year-old Beckett, pitching on three days rest, pitched the game of his life, shutting out the Yankees on just two hits to clinch a most improbable title for the Marlins.  

Defining Game
Game 4 started fast, as the Marlins scored three first-inning runs off Roger Clemens, but slowed down after that. After the Yankees got one run back in the second, the teams did next to nothing offensively for most of the rest of the game; at one point, Clemens and Marlins starter Carl Pavano combined to retire 19 straight batters. The Marlins went with closer Ugueth Urbina, and the Yankees started to try to rally. With two outs and two on base, pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra fought Urbina in an 8-pitch at bat, then hit one of the most improbable triples in Major League history, tying the game and sending the Miami crowd into shock. The Yankees weren't done, either, loading the bases with one out before Braden Looper came in for Florida and shut the door. One inning later, Florida's Alex Gonzalez led off the 12th with the 13th walkoff home run in World Series history, and the Marlins never looked back.

Gonzalez's home run

Beckett won the award, almost entirely because of his performance in Game 6. He also pitched well in Game 3, but lost. Brad Penny - who went 2-0 for the Marlins - was almost as good, and might have been the man had the series gone to Game 7. Alas, it was Beckett's date with destiny, so he won the award.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Florida 3114 (12) 62
New York 266 340

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

36. 2003 - Florida (N) def. New York (A) 4-2
37. 1977 - New York (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-2
38. 1996 - New York (A) def. Atlanta (N) 4-2
39. 1921 - New York (N) def. New York (A) 5-3
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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