- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

NEW YORK — New York Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte freely admits he figured the Florida Marlins were finished.

Fact is, plenty of folks are thinking that even now.

“People still don’t believe we can do it, because it’s the Yankees,” Marlins leadoff man Juan Pierre said.

Holding a 3-2 edge over New York, ace Josh Beckett and the wild-card Marlins can wrap up one of baseball’s more improbable World Series championships in Game6 tonight.

“I just want one more win, and then we’ll hand out the ulcer medicine in the offseason,” third baseman Mike Lowell said.

Florida comes into chilly Yankee Stadium after withstanding a pair of ninth-inning rallies by New York. Then again, the Marlins have shown a knack for knocking down the odds. They dropped the opener to San Francisco in the division series, then overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series.

“I was one of those guys that thought their series against Chicago was over,” Pettitte said yesterday. “I didn’t think they’d be able to go there and beat [Mark] Prior and [Kerry] Wood in Wrigley.”

Pettitte, who won Game2 of the World Series while working on three days’ rest, will be entrusted with saving the Yankees’ season. Going into this start, he’s tied with John Smoltz for the career postseason record of 13 victories.

“We’ve never been down like this since we began our World Series run [in 1996],” Pettitte said. “You don’t want to watch another team celebrate on your field, that’s for sure.”

Trying to give his team its best chance, Marlins manager Jack McKeon is taking the biggest gamble of his 50-plus years in baseball. For the first time in his career, Beckett will start on three days’ rest. And if the Yankees win, Florida’s Carl Pavano will do the same in Game7.

Mark Redman will be skipped in the rotation, and Dontrelle Willis will remain in the bullpen as McKeon tempts fate — and bucks a recent trend — by planning to use Beckett and Pavano on short rest.

“We’re going to go with our two best pitchers,” McKeon said. “We know that everybody wonders why you should, wonders why you shouldn’t. … I mean, who’s got the answers? Everybody’s got their own opinions. We do, too. You read one day that you should have pitched Beckett, one day you shouldn’t pitch Beckett.”

Since 1999, pitchers working on three or fewer days’ rest in the postseason have fared poorly. In 37 such starts, they’ve gone 6-20 with a 5.93 ERA, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Among the star pitches who have lost in those situations: Tom Glavine (three times), Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Bartolo Colon, Mike Hampton, Barry Zito and David Wells.

But, said McKeon, “‘historically’ don’t mean a thing when you’re playing the Yankees.”

The Yankees were given the home-field edge in this World Series by Hank Blalock’s home run off Eric Gagne in the All-Star Game — and they hope to take advantage. Of the last eight times, teams returned home facing a 3-2 deficit in the World Series, they won seven. The exception came in 1992, when Atlanta lost to Toronto.

Not since 1981 have the Yankees faced the prospect of losing the World Series clincher at home. They dropped Game6 that October to Los Angeles.

“You can’t think negative. You have to take the field planning on winning,” Yankees said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who got the only three hits off Beckett in Game3, which the Yankees wound up winning 6-1.

Beckett’s confidence was boosted by his strong four-inning outing in relief in Game7 of the NLCS on just two days’ rest.

“I’m fine. I’m ready to pitch,” Beckett said. “They asked me before. They didn’t just say, ‘You got Game6.’ They asked me if it was all right. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

It’s still not certain which Yankees hitters he’ll face.

All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano was benched for Game5, then made a pinch-hitting appearance and struck out for a postseason-record 26th time. Enrique Wilson filled in for the slumping leadoff man and got two hits but also made a costly throwing error.

Soriano often has delivered key hits for the Yankees in big games.

“My thoughts are that I’d like to have him back in the lineup, but I’ve given my head a day off today,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “We’ll talk tomorrow. I’ll see if I can read how he’s doing. I think he’s pressing. When you go up against Game6 and it’s an elimination game, it doesn’t make it any more relaxing.”

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