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Conine, Leiter links to '97 Fish
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10/16/2003  1:04 AM ET 
Conine, Leiter links to '97 Fish
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Jeff Conine is brushed back by a pitch from Mark Prior in the fourth inning in Game 6. (John Bazemore/AP)
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CHICAGO -- Long before there was a hint of magic in the Fish tank, they were called back home, like a pair of elders to watch over the new brood.

The Marlins reclaimed Jeff Conine from Baltimore on August 31, to play left field and make up for the bat Mike Lowell's broken hand could not swing.

FOX recruited Al Leiter to do commentary on a National League Championship Series that left many speechless.

And so there they were Wednesday night, the first baseman and World Series Game 7 starter of the 1997 World Champions, as the Marlins again swam into baseball's biggest fishbowl.

Conine caught the ball that ended the 9-6 win over the Cubs and sent Florida into the Fall Classic. And Leiter watched from the TV booth, overcome with memories.

"Of course it's nostalgic," said Leiter, who now throws his left-handed pitches for the Mets, with whom he appeared in another World Series, in 2000. "They were my first Series team, and the one with which I won.

"There are a lot of good guys over there. I'm happy for them."

Conine is happy for himself, happy for the stroke that injected him back into the amazing, unsinkable world of the Marlins.

"The last month and a half has been the best time of my baseball life," said the 12-year veteran. "These guys have been so much fun to play with.

"They have so much heart, they go out to get them every day. I can't explain how much fun it's been.

"To come home and be a part of this again is a dream come true."

Conine was asked whether this team reminds him at all of those '97 predecessors.

  Jeff Conine   /   IF/OF
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
floridamarlins.com

"Yeah," he said, ducking another spray in the ribald Marlins clubhouse. "We're drinking champagne."

The subsequent developments still amaze Conine, who left a Baltimore team with a 61-75 record to join a hopeful Florida club.

"They were close, going for the Wild Card," he recalled. "But it was a young team. I don't think anyone expected this. But every round, we just keep doing it."

They always have. In five postseason "rounds" in their history, the Marlins now are 5-for-5, a perfection that is beyond the comprehension of any Chicago fan.

The latest round was the most unlikely, and the most impressive, as the Marlins overcame a 3-games-to-1 deficit to the Cubs, finishing off with consecutive wins over aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in Wrigley Field.

"[Jack] McKeon did a great job managing the situation," Leiter said. "He convinced them to play it one pitch, one inning, one game at a time."

By the time only one game remained, Leiter acknowledged, all the weight was on the Cubs. The Marlins "led" 3-games-to-3 entering Wednesday's decider.

"I'll tell you what, that's the absolute truth. That's what transpires in the mind," Leiter said. "Psychologically, you're up 3-1 and you look at it like you're in the driver's seat, you need to win one of three.

    Al Leiter   /   P
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: L/L

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Mets site

"You lose Game 5, but you still only need to win one of two and you've got your big guns going," added Leiter. "When it comes down to a do-or-die one game, the mindset puts all the pressure on the team that was up.

"The flip of the confidence and the pressure elevated the Marlins. They felt like they had nothing to lose."

The trip down memory lane was a little more vivid for Conine. As he settled under Paul Bako's ninth-inning two-out fly off Ugueth Urbina, his mind went blank.

"'Make sure you don't drop it.' That was the only thing I was thinking," he said.

But as soon as the ball was in his mitt, Conine, normally a reserved fellow, entered jubilation mode with his teammates.

Leiter could only watch from above. He made it a point to not ingratiate himself with this new generation of Marlins.

"I know Lenny [Harris] and of course Conine," Leiter said. "But I didn't really get to know the other guys. I'm still playing. I still have to throw against them, so I didn't want to get too friendly. I still have to face those guys."

In that World Series clincher over the Indians six years ago, Conine had one unsuccessful pinch-hit appearance, and Leiter allowed two runs in six four-hit innings with seven strikeouts.

Wednesday night, they may have been separated by several hundred feet as the Marlins sealed another deal. But they will always be bonded by the World Series rings on their fingers.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.




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