Game 7 wrapup: Marlins 9, Cubs 6
CHICAGO -- When the Marlins dipped to 10 games under .500 on May 22, it appeared doubtful they could finish with a winning record.
Now, a team given little chance to contend is World Series bound.
In stunning fashion, the Marlins rallied behind rookie Miguel Cabrera's four RBIs and Josh Beckett's four stellar innings of relief to claim the National League pennant with a 9-6 victory over the Cubs on Wednesday night in the decisive Game 7.
From the time Jack McKeon took over as manager on May 11, the Marlins performed with a quiet confidence and unwavering calmness through a season packed with adversity. On May 22, the team was 10-games under .500 and had endured a managerial change from Jeff Torborg to McKeon.
"To come from what we came from, to have all the adversity we had, it makes it that much sweeter," Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest said in a champagne-soaked clubhouse. "This has been incredible."
For the second time in the club's 11 seasons, the Marlins are National League Champions. They now seek a second World Series championship to go along with the one they captured in 1997.
"It's a tremendous group of young men," said McKeon, who took over a 16-22 club on May 11. "When I took over, I just told them, 'Guys, if you want to work hard, pay the price and dedicate yourselves doing all the little things necessary to winning, we'll be able to play in October.' "
With the improbable comeback, the Marlins joined the 1985 Royals, '86 Red Sox and '96 Braves as the only teams in LCS history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a pennant.
The unpredictable NLCS was hardly the matchup of strong pitching that was expected. Game 7 stayed true to form as there were four home runs. The series set an LCS record with 23 total home runs, breaking the mark of 22 set by the Yankees and Mariners in the 1995 ALCS.
Cabrera, the sensational 20-year-old from Venezuela, drove in four runs, as he did in the decisive Game 4 of the Division Series against the Giants. The rookie gave the Marlins an early lift with a three-run homer off Kerry Wood in the first inning.
"When I hit it, I thought 'Oh, my God,' " Cabrera said. "I saw it go."
Performing at a level well beyond his years, Cabrera went 10-for-30 (.333) in the NLCS with three home runs and six RBIs.
But the MVP of the series went to veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who had an RBI double and set an NLCS record with 10 runs batted in for the series.
"We did it," said Rodriguez, a 10-time All-Star with the Rangers who is going to the World Series for the first time. "We beat two great teams to get here [San Francisco and Chicago]. We'll enjoy this for a couple of days, and we'll get ready for the World Series.
"Since the first day of the regular season, I never give up. When we got the lead against Kerry Wood, I started feeling some good things and look at where we are."
In a partying postgame clubhouse, players embraced, doused each other with champagne and puffed on victory cigars.
Organizing a personal moment, Rodriguez toasted McKeon and let the 72-year-old manager know the Marlins still have work to be done.
"Jack, we love you," Rodriguez told his manager with Marlins teammates around him. "You have what you want. To be in the World Series. And we are going to win it for you."
While Marlins starter Mark Redman struggled, giving up five runs in three innings, McKeon turned to two other starters for strong relief. Brad Penny, who took the loss in Game 2, tossed a scoreless fourth inning and Beckett gave up one run in four innings.
Penny was credited with the win, and Ugueth Urbina worked the ninth for the save.
"I pitched one inning, and Josh came out and did more than he should have been asked to do," Penny said. "He deserved the win more than I do."
Making the achievement more impressive was that the Marlins defeated the Cubs' two sensational starters on successive nights -- something that had not been done to the duo all season. Wood suffered the loss Wednesday, giving up seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. On Tuesday, Florida defeated Mark Prior in Game 6.
Beckett, who tossed a two-hit shutout in Game 5, was again spectacular, retiring 12 of 13 batters he faced.
"I did what I had to do," said Beckett after the Marlins won for the third time in four games at Wrigley Field. "Jack was going with the guy who is throwing good. I'm throwing good. He gave me the ball, and I feel like I did good."
In a see-saw seventh game, the lead changed hands three times in the first five innings.
With a game plan of laying off Wood's breaking balls away, the Marlins ran the right-hander's pitch count up to 100 through five innings. Pinch-hitter Brian Banks led off with a walk and Luis Castillo walked with one out. Rodriguez's RBI double pulled the Marlins to within 5-4, while it gave the catcher an NLCS record for RBIs in a series with 10.
Rodriguez has hit safely in all 11 postseason games.
With runners on second and third, Cabrera's RBI grounder to first tied the game. Florida went up, 6-5, on Derrek Lee's run-scoring single to right.
"We were down, 3-1, in games, and we had an uphill battle," Lee said. "When Josh won [Game 5], we were flat. He pitched a shutout, put us on his back and carried us. What this team is all about, is we pick everybody up. The first few games I disappeared. Then I got some hits."
The Marlins padded their advantage to 7-5 in the sixth on Castillo's infield RBI single off the glove of reliever Kyle Farnsworth. The run was charged to Wood, who was lifted after 5 2/3 innings. Wood, who had a no-decision in Game 3, gave up seven runs on seven hits with four walks and six strikeouts.
Jeff Conine singled to open the sixth inning and he came home from third on Castillo's hit.
In the seventh, the Marlins increased their lead to 9-5 on Alex Gonzalez's two-run double off Dave Veres. Gonzalez was 2-for-23 in the NLCS before lining his two-base hit to left-center.
The Cubs, however, kept battling. And with two outs in the seventh, Troy O'Leary delivered a pinch-hit home run off Beckett. The blast ended a string of 12 straight Cubs retired by Penny and Beckett.
"I have to tell you, Josh retiring 12 of 13, he is so locked in right now," Marlins pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal said. "He's throwing nothing but strikes. I was thinking of going two maybe three innings with him."
Facing the Cubs for the first time ever at Wrigley Field, Redman worked three innings, giving up five runs on five hits. A 14-game winner in the regular season, Redman relies heavily on off-speed pitches and working the corners. He does allow fly balls, and at Wrigley Field that can prove hazardous, as it did when he surrendered a pair of two-run homers to Wood and Moises Alou, giving Chicago a 5-3 lead.
Wood delivered his two-run shot to even the game in the second, and in the third, Alou went deep to left.
Outscored, 12-0, in the first inning heading into the decisive game, the Marlins scored in the first for only the second time in series.
Cabrera's first-inning, three-run homer on a 1-2 pitch gave the Marlins immediate momentum. Juan Pierre opened the game by smacking a triple to deep right field. With one out, Rodriguez fell behind two strikes, but worked a nine-pitch at-bat that concluded with a walk.
Cabrera crushed a fastball to left-center and onto Waveland Avenue for his third homer in the series at Wrigley Field.
With a 21st birthday in April, Cabrera is not even of drinking age. So as his teammates were drinking and spraying each other with bottles of bubbly, the rookie stayed in the corner.
"Oh no, I don't drink," he said. "I stand back and watch."
The rookie earned the right to step back, he repeatedly stepped up in the series.
Before the players exited the clubhouse, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria addressed the team.
"We have four more games to win," Loria said.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.