- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

CHICAGO — Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon returned to his hotel room early yesterday, a few hours after his team clinched a World Series berth, and found himself inundated with phone calls.

His cell phone kept ringing. So did his wife’s. There were two phone lines in the room, and they kept ringing.

“Tickets. Tickets. Hotel rooms,” McKeon said. “The whole family called. It’s the same people, but you add a few more because now you’ve got the cousins calling.”

At 72, McKeon has four children and nine grandchildren. And now, thanks to the Marlins’ astounding success, he’s probably hearing from some long-lost relatives.

Florida’s comeback victory in the National League Championship Series left countless Chicago Cubs fans in despair, but at least it made McKeon’s family happy. He’ll become the oldest manager in World Series history when the Marlins play Game1 tomorrow against the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

The resilient Marlins clinched their second pennant in six years in characteristic fashion — by coming from behind. They trailed by two runs in the fifth inning of Game7 before rallying to beat the Cubs 9-6 Wednesday.

Florida won despite leading in just 20 of 67 innings in the series. The Marlins beat Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in the final two games, and they’re only the fourth team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a league championship series.

“It didn’t sink in until a couple of hours later what has happened,” McKeon said. “You’ve reached the top. The World Series is it. Whether you win or lose, you’re in the World Series.”

The Marlins remained in Chicago yesterday, waiting to fly to Boston or New York pending the result of last night’s Game 7 in the American League Championship Series. Against either, the Marlins would be underdogs — as they were in the NLCS, the division series, the wild card race and spring training.

“We like that,” McKeon said. “Believe me, we’re going to give the American League a tough shot.”

Sammy Sosa’s advice: Don’t count the Marlins out.

“They beat Mark Prior and Kerry Wood back to back,” the Cubs slugger said. “They have to win the World Series. If they don’t do that, we will be very mad.”

The Marlins’ odds against winning are even longer because the scramble to win the final three games against the Cubs left McKeon’s rotation in disarray. He used three starters in Game7, with Mark Redman pitching three innings, Brad Penny one and series hero Josh Beckett four.

Penny and struggling rookie Dontrelle Willis likely will start Games1 and 2 in some order, McKeon said.

“I really think Penny is going to step up this series,” he said.

Penny went 14-10 during the regular season but has won only once since hyperextending his pitching elbow Sept.12. He an ERA of 14.14 in two postseason starts.

Beckett probably will be rested until Game3 in Miami, where he threw a two-hit shutout Sunday to beat Chicago. Left-hander Redman likely will start Game4.

Carl Pavano took Penny’s turn Tuesday and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings to help beat the Cubs. But McKeon said he wants Pavano back in the bullpen, where he pitched 4⅔ scoreless innings in the playoffs.

Willis will get at least one more start despite a postseason ERA of 12.00. He allowed six runs and retired just seven batters Saturday against the Cubs.

The rookie left-hander revitalized baseball in South Florida with his 9-1 start this season. Regardless of whether he’s the Marlins’ Game1 pitcher, he’s delighted just to be on a World Series roster.

“I can’t say this is a dream come true,” Willis said, “because you can’t dream anything like this.”

Juan Encarnacion or Jeff Conine likely will be Florida’s designated hitter for its World Series road games. Encarnacion, who lost his job in right field to rookie sensation Miguel Cabrera during the Cubs series, hit .270 this season with 19 homers and 94 RBI, but he batted .185 in the playoffs.

Left fielder Conine, who started the season with the Baltimore Orioles, is an option for the DH role because he’s nursing a sore ankle resulting from an awkward slide in Wednesday’s game. He hit .458 in the NLCS.

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