The major league baseball postseason in 2003 was epic, with two memorable seven-game League Championship Series following a dynamic Division Series round. The 2003 World Series had a tough act to follow, but while the Fall Classic couldn’t quite live up to the expectations of the previous two rounds, it still provided a great story. The underdog Florida Marlins, led by 23-year-old Josh Beckett, upset the New York Yankees to win an improbable title.
Florida (they were re-named “Miami” for the 2012 season) had gotten off to a slow start, losing 29 of their first 48 games. An early managerial change to Jack McKeon proved an ironic antidote—a 73-year-old manager connected with an emerging core of young talent and the Marlins took off. They finished the year with 91 wins, took the National League wild-card and then survived postseason battles with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs to claim the NL pennant.
New York won 101 games and the franchise was only three years removed from a stretch of four World Series titles in five years. The Yankees had beaten the Minnesota Twins and then survived the Boston Red Sox to get back into a Series they were widely expected to win.
The first game sent a signal that this World Series might not go according to script. The Marlins got strong pitching from Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis and Ugueth Urbina to win the opening game 3-2. Then, it seemed like the script re-asserted itself.
New York won consecutive games by 6-1 scores. They took Game 2 on their homefield when Hideki Matsui hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Andy Pettite pitched well. When the Series went to Miami, the Yankees won Game 3 behind strong pitching from Mike Mussina and ninth-inning home runs by Aaron Boone and Bernie Williams that broke open a close game.
Florida showed some signs of life early in Game 4 when a 20-year-old named Miguel Cabrera took Roger Clemens deep for a three-run jack. But when the Yankees eventually tied the game 3-3 with two runs in the ninth, the value of the veterans seemed too much to overcome.
Then the 2003 World Series seemed to turn, almost on a dime. Even though Game 4 went 12 innings, Yankee manager Joe Torre made a controversial decision not to bring in Mariano Rivera, even for an inning. Rivera had pitched two innings the night before—entering when Game 3 was still a 2-1 game—but that had been in his only appearance in this World Series. Torre didn’t even try to steal an inning with Rivera and the Marlins eventually won on a home run by Alex Gonzalez.
New York sent David Wells to the mound for Game 5, but back spasms took him out after just one inning. Florida quickly jumped Jose Contreras for three runs in the second inning, including a two-RBI single from Penny out of the pitcher’s spot. With a 6-4 win, the Marlins were heading back north needing just one more win.
Home teams still hold a pronounced advantage when a World Series shifts to its back end, Games 6 & 7, and the locale of Yankee Stadium combined with the youth of the Marlin players—no significant player older than 31—and all but two in their 20s—led most people to believe New York would still find a way to get it done.
Enter Josh Beckett. The power right-hander had been on the wrong end of the Game 3 duel with Mussina, but he was on a roll and McKeon was confident enough to hand him the ball on three days rest.
Beckett was simply dominant. He threw a five-hit shutout, went the distance and Florida won 2-0. Even with a World Series record of 1-1, Beckett was named Series MVP, with a 1.10 ERA in his two starts and no Marlin offensive player having a signature Series.
The Florida Marlins haven’t had the most storied history of a baseball franchise—they’ve only made the playoffs twice. But both of those instances, 1997 and 2003, ended up with a World Series win. The Marlins are the only team in baseball to have never lost a postseason series.