10/08/2003 7:44 PM ET
Notes: Looper still in the loop
CHICAGO -- Going with who's hot has been Jack McKeon's managerial style since he took control of the Marlins on May 11.
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
McKeon switched closers in mid-September when Braden Looper struggled and Ugueth Urbina excelled.
In the Marlins' last two playoff games, Urbina had nervous moments trying to close out Game 1 of the League Championship Series and Game 4 of the Division Series.
Urbina allowed a two-out, two-run homer to Chicago's Sammy Sosa in Game 1 of the LCS at Wrigley Field. Sosa's blast in the ninth tied the game at 8. But Urbina, who pitched a scoreless 10th, picked up the win after Mike Lowell's pinch-hit home run lifted the Marlins to a 9-8 win.
Looper, who pitched a perfect 11th, earned the save.
In Game 4 of the Division Series, Urbina logged a save in the Marlins' 7-6 win over the Giants. Protecting a two-run lead in the ninth, the Giants scored once off Urbina and the game ended on catcher Ivan Rodriguez tagging J.T. Snow out at the plate.
Bats/Throws: R/RMore info:
While Urbina remains the closer, McKeon said nothing is etched in stone.
"Uggie got a pitch out over the plate on Sosa," McKeon said. "Sometimes that happens. He got a pitch where he didn't want it, just like their guy did with Lowell. ... We're going to play it by ear."
Regardless who closes, the Marlins are encouraged that Looper is regaining the form that led to him leading the team with 28 saves in 34 opportunities.
The deeper the Marlins go into the playoffs, the more important it is for their bullpen to remain strong.
Of late, the Marlins have relied heavily on Chad Fox in the setup role and Urbina to close.
Fox pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 1, and has given up one run in 6 2/3 innings this postseason. Urbina has tossed five innings in four playoff games, allowing three earned runs while racking up one save.
Adding Looper to the mix, either as setup or closer, adds another strong arm.
"They say this game is 90 percent confidence," said Looper, whose season hit the wall after he was roughed up twice in a week in September against the Braves. "I knew how big those games were. I'm not saying I lost my confidence but it was definitely stung."
Patience at the plate: The Marlins don't need to be reminded of how dominant Cubs starters Mark Prior and Kerry Wood can be.
What is the Marlins' secret to scoring?
"We need the top two guys on base," bench coach Doug Davis said. "We have to find a way to get guys in scoring position."
So often, the Marlins' offense goes when Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo go.
The leadoff and No. 2 hitters were 4-for-10 with two walks, a double, triple and three runs scored in Game 1 of the LCS.
With power pitchers like Prior and Wood, the Marlins are hoping their batters work deep into counts, draw walks and capitalize on mistakes.
"Two-out hits are going to be key," Davis said.
Cabrera keeps contributing: Rookie Miguel Cabrera may be 20 years old, but he is undaunted by the playoff spotlight. Cabrera went 2-for-6 with a home run, single and two runs scored in Game 1 of the LCS.
The Venezuelan native, McKeon believes, will eventually become a perennial All-Star.
"Down the road, he's definitely going to be an All-Star," McKeon said. "The postseason doesn't bother him. He's been better in the postseason than the regular season."
Who's the best manager? The way McKeon turned the Marlins around has made him a strong Manager of the Year candidate.
Under McKeon, the Marlins went 75-49, reached the LCS and are in position to advance to the World Series.
McKeon downplays his importance.
On Wednesday, he was asked about Cubs manager Dusty Baker.
A big fan, McKeon said he always considers Baker worthy of Manager of the Year.
"I've got the highest respect for Dusty," McKeon said. "I managed against him a number of years in Cincinnati. He does a remarkable job with the talent he's given each year. I like the way the players play for him, the way he manages the game. When the voting comes out for Manager of the Year, I always seem to have my vote go to Dusty. I've just got a lot of respect for him."
Did you know? When Lowell belted his homer in the 11th Tuesday, he became the sixth player in postseason history to deliver a pinch-hit homer in extra innings.
It's happened twice this postseason.
Boston's Trot Nixon did it in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against Oakland at Fenway Park.
The others are: Mike Pagliarulo of Minnesota (Game 3 of '91 ALCS at Toronto); George Vukovich of Philadelphia (Game 4 of '81 NLDS vs. Montreal); John Lowenstein of Baltimore (Game 1 of '79 ALCS vs. California), and Dusty Rhodes of N.Y. Giants (Game 1 of '54 WS vs. Cleveland).
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.