Hardly any team in Major League Baseball history has had, or will ever have, a better inaugural ten-year stretch than the Miami Marlins. There have been numerous cases of expansion club winning a championship within six to nine years after their establishment. Some good examples were the Mets and the Diamondbacks, among others.
In 2003, it was different from the Marlins. The Florida Marlins played their first game on April 5th, 1993 – a 6-3 home win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The date was October 23rd, 2003 – the Marlins were playing for their second World Series title over the past six years.
When Florida defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 1997 World Series, they were the fastest expansion team to win a World Series title. In US sports overall, only NBA’s Rochester Royals, Milwaukee Bucks, and Minneapolis Lakers, plus NFL’s Cleveland Browns and New York Giants, won a title within three years of existence. The Diamondbacks would later join the list, smashing Miami’s accomplishment, winning in 2001 in their third year in the big leagues.
The Marlins, as mentioned, were a little more interesting and special that year. Florida won 91 games and entered the postseason as a wildcard team. There they defeated the 100-win San Francisco Giants and overcame the Chicago Cubs in seven games in the NLCS. Young Miguel Cabrera proved to be the difference in the decider with a three-run homer in the first inning.
The Marlins would have never qualified for the playoffs in the American League. Even in the new, post-2012 format, they would’ve been four games short of the Seattle Mariners. Yet they were leading the Yankees, the 2000 World Series champions and the team with the best record in baseball, going into Game Six of the 2003 Fall Classic.
Everyone who knows the 2003 Marlins team knows that they could have been even more solid during the regular season. The team finished the season sixth in starters ERA and tenth in runs scored. Also, Mark Lowell and Derrek Lee both hit 30+ home runs. Lowell also drove in 105 runs, ranking 11th in the National League.
The Marlins were no joke back then. This is an important piece of information considering the quick downfall that followed. A downfall so fierce that the Marlins, whether Miami or Florida, never made the MLB postseason after. Today’s efforts aren’t exactly closing the margin.
Jack McKeon’s decision to start Josh Beckett was very surprising for the time and the circumstances. Beckett was on just a three-day rest while Mark Redman had a weak Game Two start. Redman surrendered four runs, accompanied by five hits, in just two innings and a third in what turned out to be a 6-1 loss.
However, it was never a bad one, nor an unexpected one. Beckett was the best the team had on the mound in his second full season in the majors. He had a 3.04 ERA with a 9-8 record during the regular season, and also led the rotation in strikeouts. His Achilles’ heel was the control, with him holding the highest BB/9 mark at 3.5. He had managed to limit his walks after five bases on balls in seven innings in his lone NLDS start and had a 2.67 walks-per-nine ratio up to that point. Nevertheless, his start against San Francisco proved he could get out of a difficult situation so that the walks didn’t matter.
The Marlins opened the 2003 World Series with a 3-2 win at Yankee Stadium despite Bernie Williams’s sixth-inning home run. New York answered with two consecutive victories, then the Marlins followed with two of their own.
Florida opened Game Three with a run in the first but five in the last two sealed it for NY. Mariano Rivera got the last six outs after Mike Mussina earned a win in seven innings for his fifth save of the 2003 postseason. This remains two saves short of the record of seven, shared by six pitchers.
Game Four was a 12-inning thriller at Pro Player Stadium, which ended with a walk-off home run by Florida shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Interestingly enough, Gonzalez batted just .111 up to that point in the series, the lowest average among the starting lineup.
A hard-fought 6-4 win in Game Five gets us to where we are. Game Six at Yankee Stadium. Before crowds of over 55,000 in the potential last two games, the Marlins are beyond underdogs, despite leading 3-2 in the series.
Although the Marlins were just a win away from a second title in six years, there was still a feeling that the Yankees had an advantage so big that it almost felt unfair. The team had won league-best 101 games (although the Braves had also done the same in the NL). If it got to a Game Seven, the Yankees had prevailed in a dramatic seventh game as soon as the NLCS against the Red Sox.
However, Josh Beckett neutralized that advantage. The unexpected happened, and it didn’t involve a Game Seven.
Beckett’s start was as dominant as it gets. The 23-year-old threw complete nine innings and allowed just five hits while committing nine strikeouts and walking just two batters. His complete-game shutout was strengthened by an RBI single from Luis Castillo and a sac fly by Juan Encarnacion. That way, the underdog Marlins were champions again.
In spite of their underdog status, the Marlins were supposed to follow the championship by creating a dynasty. If they had maintained most of their star power, their farm system, which had created Miggy Cabrera, Dontrelle Wills, Beckett himself, would have been enough to start a dynasty.
However, by mid-2004, Brad Penny, Derrek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez, Mark Redman, Juan Pierre, and others were out of the team. This had affected the Marlins record-wise and 83-79 wasn’t enough to get them back to the postseason. In 2006, they finished with 78-84, a losing record for the first time in many years, and faded into nothingness. In 2012, the team’s name changed from Florida to Miami. That started what Marlins fans refer to as a “spell” of eight consecutive years of winning fewer than 80 games.
When you come to think about it, the 2003 World Series and the downfall sum up the whole Marlins history. It just screams “I’m going to start two dynasties, ruin both and suck forever ever after”. To the team that won two World Series in its first ten years and never made the postseason since.
Come discuss this and much more at the Overtime Heroics forums!
Be sure to check out our partners at Repp Sports! They offer the first-ever crowd-sourced, no carb, no sugar, energy drink called RAZE and much more! Use the link above or add the promo code OTH1 at checkout to get 30% off your order!