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October 20, 2003

New York 6, Florida 1
by Larry Mahnken

Almost nobody picked the Marlins to beat the Giants, but they did. Of course, if Jose Cruz, Jr. hadn't dropped that ball, or if J.T. Snow hadn't tried to score from second on a single to left, it might have been the Giants who won the series, and maybe in four games.

Almost nobody picked the Marlins to beat the Cubs--almost nobody wanted the Marlins to beat the Cubs--and when the Cubs went up 3-1 in the series with Prior and Wood pitching two of the last three, everyone wrote the Marlins off. And yet they won. Of course, the Cubs were an 88-win team, and they still would have won the series if Dusty Baker knew how to handle pitchers. And even if he didn't, they would have won if he had Mariano Rivera.

Hey, the Marlins are a good team, they won 91 games in the regular season, and they had the best record in baseball for the past few months. But the Cubs are not the Yankees, and the Giants are not the Yankees. And the Marlins are not the Red Sox. As much as everyone wants to spin it to make it more exciting, the Yankees are a much better team than Florida. They have a better lineup than Florida, they have a better rotation than Florida, and they have a better bullpen than Florida.

That doesn't mean that the Marlins can't win, lesser teams than them have beaten greater teams than the Yankees, and their style of play does a good job of exposing New York's defense, which helped Anaheim beat the Yankees last October. Of course, without the great relief pitching and big home runs, Anaheim wouldn't have beaten New York last season.

For Florida to win, they need the breaks to go their way. They need to score lucky runs, like the three they pushed across Saturday, and keep the Yankees from taking advantage of scoring opportunities. They need to hit better than they have--they haven't gotten a single extra base hit in two games--and they need to ignore the "little ball" hype. Florida got past San Francisco and Chicago by creating runs, not manufacturing them, and they need to keep doing it.

And they need to win Tuesday. Josh Beckett is a legitimately great starter--probably the only one Florida has--and the Yankees should have trouble putting runs on the board against him. Of course, Mike Mussina is also a legitimately great starter, and the Marlins are going to have just as much trouble putting runs up against him. It doesn't mean anything that Florida now has "home field advantage"--home teams are 16-18 in the postseason, the Yankees are 4-4 at home and 4-1 on the road, and had the best road record in baseball this year. They won two straight in the freaking Metrodome, I think they can handle Pro Player Stadium.

* * *

Quick thoughts:

- Was this the last time we'll see Andy Pettitte as a Yankee? I'm pretty close to 100% sure that's a negative, and not just because this series will likely go six or more games. Andy Pettitte wants to come back next year, the Yankees are going to need a starter like him next year, and it's unlikely that any team will be able to offer him enough money to pry him away. However, he is a free agent, so you never know. But I think it's probable that Pettitte will finish his career as a Yankee.

- What is up with Hideki Matsui against NL teams? During interleague play this season, in 77 PAs (BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!) Matsui's line was .493/.558/.881/1.439. 1.439!!! That's Barry Bonds on a hot streak!!! Even more incredible is that his line versus the AL was .263/.327/.381/.708. His OPS vs. the NL was DOUBLE his OPS vs. the AL. That's insane. I don't know why Matsui hits so well vs. the NL, but he appears to be continuing the trend, going 4 for 8 in the first two games with a homer. If he keeps it up, and the Yankees win, he looks like a good pick for MVP.

- I love Nick Johnson, but there's no question that Jason Giambi should be starting in Florida. Nick's a great hitter, but Giambi's still much better, and while both have struggled in the postseason so far, Giambi's struggles haven't been as great as Nick's.

- Aaron Boone made a mental error in Game One that gave the Marlins a run, and might have cost the Yankees the game. He made two errors last night, the last of which cost Andy Pettitte the shutout. But I'm not upset, because I really don't think the Yankees would have won on Thursday if he hadn't hit that home run right then.

- If the Yankees win this series, and the last game is a blowout, does Joe Torre bring in Roger Clemens to get the last out?

- A guy at work today said that even when the Yankees were down 5-2 to Pedro and five outs away from losing, he had no doubt that they'd win. I told him that was too bad, because if he's telling the truth, he couldn't have enjoyed the victory nearly as much as I did. Winning is far more fun when you don't expect it.