10/26/2003 12:31 AM ET
It looked like an upset, but it wasn't
NEW YORK -- For most of the known world, what happened in Yankee Stadium on Saturday night will be regarded as an upset of global, maybe even galactic, proportions.
The Florida Marlins, though, did not quite see it the same way. They just figured that the better team won.
There's a big gap between those two perceptions, but let's try to bridge it. Yes, this World Series victory, the Marlins over the New York Yankees in six games, will be viewed as a world-class upset if only because that's the way much of the world saw it, front to back. The World Series is Yankee turf. The Marlins' turf? Well, they share a slice of South Florida real estate with the Miami Dolphins.
But the Marlins weren't wrong, either. How could they be the underdogs when they had a pitcher as terrific as Josh Beckett was Saturday night in the 2-0 clincher? How could they be the underdogs when they played terrific defense, when they capitalized on every Yankee mistake, when they wound up controlling this Series with pitching and defense?
In the champagne-spattered visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, in the midst of a truly joyous celebration, reliever Chad Fox was patiently explaining to people that the word "upset" ought to disappear from the vocabulary of this Series.
"No, no, no, we don't feel like it was an upset," Fox said. "We knew we could beat 'em. And we beat 'em on their stage, the biggest stage in baseball. And we took care of business like we had to do. We did it.
"It wasn't a fluke that we beat the Giants, it wasn't a fluke that we beat the Cubs, and it wasn't a fluke that we beat the Yankees. We've got a good team. There's no upset. The best team won. You know what? We're world champions, and that's all that that matters."
But there was that 3-1 deficit in the NL Championship Series. And then there was the 2-1 deficit against the mighty Yanks? Somewhere in there, wasn't there a moment of real, serious doubt?
"No, not at all," Fox said. "And I don't say that because we're standing here as world champions. You watch the ways these guys come into the locker room every day. We approach it the same way, whether we're up or whether we're down. It was the exact same as when I got here two months ago. There hasn't been any change in mood, change in attitude with these guys. We go out and play with our hearts and we believe in ourselves. And that's all we had to prove, we had to prove to ourselves that we had to do this.
"And it doesn't get any better than this," Fox said, gesturing to take in the whole of Yankee Stadium and all that meant. "There's not a bigger, better stage to win the World Series on than that field right there."
"To win here in one of the toughest places to win, Yankee Stadium, and to win against the New York Yankees, the greatest team in professional sports, well, David beat Goliath."
-- Jeff Conine
The upset thing, of course, will not go easily away. Even as the Marlins were explaining that they were the better team, an argument that had been made convincingly on the field four out of six times, the upset imagery came creeping in.
"To win here in one of the toughest places to win, Yankee Stadium, and to win against the New York Yankees, the greatest team in professional sports, well, David beat Goliath," said outfielder/designated hitter Jeff Conine.
That, of course, is the ultimate upset story. We are going to make a concession to the upset metaphor and, at least find one that works; a result that almost everybody saw as an upset, but, when you examined it, was really something else.
So this was not Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson. There was something of fluke to that one, but not here. David and Goliath looked like a keeper early on, but then it turned out the Marlins were considerably bigger than David.
No, this was "Hoosiers." This was a clear case of the consummate little guys beating everybody they had to beat, one at a time, over time, one after the other. The little guys from Hickory (Or in real life, Milan, Ind.) won not because they had Cinderella's magic, but because they were, on each individual winning night, the better team, the more deserving team. They worked hard. They got better over time. They earned their way.
And that description perfectly fits the 2003 Florida Marlins, who are now the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins. They "shocked the world" as the center fielder and leadoff man kept saying they would during the NLCS. They shocked the world four times over -- by reaching the postseason in the first place, by beating the Giants in the Division Series, by beating the Cubs in the NLCS even after being down, three games to one, and, in the mother of all shockers, by beating the New York Yankees in the World Series.
But the surprise should have ended some time ago. When you looked at the three postseason series objectively, you could not find the reasons why the Marlins should have been such overwhelming underdogs. They were like the candidate who starts out with almost no name recognition, but then wins the election. Maybe it was a surprise, but if you get the most votes, what difference did the surprise make?
The Marlins were an upset story on the surface. The 72-year-old manager, Jack McKeon, who comes out of retirement, takes over a losing team in May and gets his charges to play harder and have more fun and win more. The emergence of Beckett as a dominant postseason force was particularly surprising, but when you examined him throwing in the mid-90s and above and then locking up people with that breaking ball, the real surprise was when somebody got a hit. There was some surprise when McKeon gave Beckett the ball on three days' rest for Game 6. But it was the rest of us who were surprised. McKeon knew. Beckett knew. The Marlins all knew.
If this Marlins' triumph goes down in history as a huge upset, because that was the popular perception, well, so be it. But let it be "Hoosiers" instead of Buster Douglas, OK? Better still, let it be recorded that the Florida Marlins won this World Series because they were just plain better than the New York Yankees, in late October, 2003.
Michael Bauman is a national columnist of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.