Florida cranks up heat

Saturday, October 25, 2003

NEW YORK -- Mindful of the New York Yankees' knack for coming back, Jack McKeon wants to finish them off tonight in Game 6 of the World Series.

And he'll try to do it with his ace -- Josh Beckett.

The Florida Marlins right-hander will start on three days' rest for the first time in his short career, which makes the move a gamble. But McKeon opted to go with Beckett rather than rookie left-hander Dontrelle Willis, relegated to a relief role during the series, or left-hander Mark Redman, who has a 6.50 ERA in the postseason and lost to the Yankees in Game 2.

"If I had Bobby Gibson out there on three days' rest, would anybody be asking me how I pitch Bobby Gibson?" McKeon said Friday. "No. That's the way we feel about Beckett."

The 23-year-old Texan has a 1-2 record with a 2.67 ERA this postseason. He retired 61 of 72 batters in his past three appearances.

Beckett pitched well but took the loss Tuesday in Game 3, when he went 7 1-3 innings and threw 108 pitches, many exceeding 95 mph. On Thursday he told McKeon his arm felt fine and he wanted to start Game 6.

"You always want to be that guy -- to take the ball in the last game or whatever," Beckett said. "A day's less rest, it's easier to stay sharp."

If the Yankees extend the series to Game 7 on Sunday, Florida's starter will be Carl Pavano, also on three day's rest.

"Two days, three days -- it's in the mind," McKeon said.

Pavano threw 115 pitches Wednesday and limited the Yankees to one run in eight innings to help Florida win Game 4. He's 2-0 with an ERA of 1.40 in the postseason.

"We're going to go with the guys who are pitching the best for us," McKeon said. "Beckett and Pavano have pitched the best for us in the playoffs."

Andy Pettitte, who won Game 2 of the World Series on three days' rest, will start Saturday for New York. Mike Mussina would pitch Game 7.

Beckett shut out the Chicago Cubs on two hits in the NL championship series. Then, on two days' rest, he came out of the bullpen to retire 12 of 13 batters in Game 7.

On Tuesday he limited the Yankees to three hits, all by Derek Jeter, and left in the eighth inning with the score 1-1. Florida lost 6-1.

"The way he's throwing right now, with his adrenaline flowing, I'm sure he'll be fine with three days' rest," teammate Derrek Lee said.

McKeon could have opted to save Beckett for a possible Game 7, when he would be fresher. But if the Yankees win today, they would have the upper hand playing at home in a winner-take-all finale.

And the Marlins know how hard the Yankees are to put away.

"They believe they're always in the game, no matter what the score," Lee said. "They remind us of ourselves."

The surprising wild-card Marlins came from behind to win the division series and the NL championship series. They've rallied again in the World Series, taking a 3-2 lead by winning Games 4 and 5 in Miami.

How will the Marlins fare now that they're ahead?

"When you come into Yankee Stadium with a one-game lead, you're confident, but you're not overconfident," McKeon said. "We know that this is a very, very tough Yankee ballclub. They don't go down easy."

That's why McKeon wants his ace on the mound today.

The 6-foot-5, 218-pound Beckett looks strong enough to handle pitching on short rest. But he'll be working in chilly weather, and the assignment will test a pitching elbow he sprained early this season, sending him to the disabled list for two months.

It was once common to start every fourth day in the World Series, but in recent postseasons, pitchers working on three or fewer days' rest have done poorly. Since 1999 they're 6-20 with a 5.93 ERA, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

"'Historically' don't mean a thing when you're playing the Yankees," McKeon said.

Second-guessers should note that the Marlins' 72-year-old manager has made the right decision time after time this month:

-- Mike Lowell, left out of the lineup at the start of the playoffs, hit a pinch-hit homer to win a game.

-- Rookie Miguel Cabrera was moved to right field, where he became a defensive sensation.

-- Alex Gonzalez stayed in the lineup despite a horrible slump and hit a game-winning, 12th-inning homer to beat New York in Game 4.

-- And with a patchwork pitching rotation, the Marlins are one game from the championship despite being outscored this postseason.

Going with Beckett on short rest may be McKeon's most important call of all.

"Everybody's got their own opinions," McKeon said. "We do, too. We're going to go out there and try to win Game 6."

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