- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

NEW YORK — Aaron Boone got a wake-up call from manager Joe Torre. Dontrelle Willis explored the monuments. Jack McKeon smoked a cigar. The grounds crew painted a new logo — at the right ballpark this time.

Baseball took a much-needed break to catch its breath yesterday after a wild week. A stirring comeback at Yankee Stadium, a remarkable rally at Wrigley Field. A pair of Game 7s.

Whew.

Now on deck, the 100th anniversary World Series. It starts tonight at Yankee Stadium with David Wells pitching for New York against Florida’s Brad Penny.

“We’re a little beat up, a little tired,” Torre said. “But being tired after what we’ve accomplished is all right.”

Ivan Rodriguez and the Marlins were dragging a bit, too, as they rolled into the Bronx for a light workout in a drizzle. Chatterbox Juan Pierre kept it loose during batting practice, doing play-by-play when a teammate’s drive hooked into the left-field corner and took an odd carom.

“And … Matsui plays it into a triple!” Pierre cackled.

Pierre and the wild card Marlins were at Midway Airport in Chicago shortly before midnight when they found out they would be facing Derek Jeter & Co. Florida’s two team buses were ready to drive onto the tarmac when the news blared over the radio: Boone had homered in the 11th inning to beat Boston in the American League Championship Series.

“We’re going to New York!” several Marlins players shouted.

With that, baseball had an unlikely matchup — the club that has won a record 26 championships against one trying to win its second title in only its 11th year of existence.

It will be the big-bucks Yankees, with a deep rotation, plenty of power and ace closer Mariano Rivera, against the low-budget Marlins, an incredibly resilient team featuring hard-throwing Josh Beckett and a lot of speed.

“No, we’re not intimidated,” said star rookie pitcher Dontrelle Willis. “Not yet, anyway.”

Willis enjoyed his first day at Yankee Stadium, walking beyond the left-center field wall to check out the plaques and monuments honoring the likes of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

Wells, Roger Clemens and Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre took a bottle of champagne to the same spot late Thursday night while the Yankees were celebrating their 6-5 win over the Red Sox.

“Decided to have a touch with the Babe,” Wells said. “We went out there, and we did it. He’s shining on us, he’s looking down. Why not give him a toast, man? He’s the one that got us here. From 1918 ‘til now, the curse lives.”

Earlier this week, a lot of fans around the country were still hoping to see a different pairing.

“The romantic matchup was going to be the Red Sox and Cubs to see which one was going to get over the biggest jinx or whatever,” Torre said.

In fact, groundskeepers at Fenway Park already had painted the Series logo on the field.

“People are nuts. How can they do that?” said Rivera, the ALCS MVP. “It makes them look silly. Maybe they want to believe they won.”

Instead, Torre was on the phone early yesterday with Boone, inviting him to a City Hall Park pep rally. Torre initially was going to let Boone sleep in, then decided the Yankees newcomer would delight in the warm reception.

“So I got his number this morning, called him, did give him a wake-up call,” Torre said. “I said, ‘I know you’re tired, but so am I. Get up, put on pair of jeans and come on down.’ He did. He was terrific.”

McKeon also was having a relaxed day. At 72, he’s the oldest manager to lead a team into the World Series.

McKeon stood outside the clubhouse puffing on a cigar. Yankee Stadium is a no-smoking building, not that anyone was going to spoil his fun.

“Yankee Stadium has always been special to everybody,” he said. “I knew coming out to the ballpark today that some of my players said they’d never been to Yankee Stadium. They’re going to enjoy the great tradition.”

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