It was the end of the World Series as we know it. It ended with the first pitch of the first game last Saturday night, and not because it prompted an unprecedented Fall Classic announcement of game-time humidity (82%, for those of you scoring at home). The Series, which began with a moon over Miami, had never before been this far south or this far afield from its roots. Hosted by a second-place team in its fifth year of existence—a club of transplants playing in a region of transplants—this Series was different from the previous 92. This is baseball at the turn of this century.
With all due respect to the Atlanta Braves and their 716 wins this decade, the Florida Marlins are the Team of the '90s. They reached the World Series by playing checkbook baseball and capitalizing on the three gizmos produced by major league owners this decade: expansion, the wild card and interleague play. Florida, established in 1993, reached the Series faster than any other expansion team, despite having only the third-best record in its own division against National League teams. The Marlins, who finished nine games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, also lost more games within their league than the New York Mets. Florida's 12-3 record against American League opponents in the first year of interleague play essentially qualified it for the postseason and the eventual showdown with the Cleveland Indians, another Rotisserie-like team heavy on turnover and payroll.
The Faux Classic began, appropriately enough, not in a pitchers' park or in a hitters' park, but in a quarterbacks' park, Pro Player Stadium. Last year the Series was played in The House That Ruth Built; this year it was held in The House That Marino Built, where Marlins fans trekked to a place only Dolphins fans have typically ventured: the upper deck.
"Can I bring my glove?" 10-year-old Frankie Rodriguez asked his father, Leo, before Game 1. Leo, 43, checked the tickets—ninth row of section 411—approximated the mileage and said, "Forget it. No way a ball will ever come up here."
How appropriate, too, that the first pitch of this new era was hurled by someone to whom the great mythology of the World Series meant nothing. "When I was a child, I didn't even think of this, because it wasn't something that passed through my mind," said the Marlins' Game 1 starter, righthander Livan Hernandez, who defected from Cuba two years ago. Until he watched the Game 6 telecast last year, he never had seen a World Series game.
Hernandez was not even aware that his veteran counterpart, 39-year-old righthander Orel Hershiser, had won a Cy Young Award (in 1988, when Hernandez was 13). No matter. From the moment the pubescent group Hanson sang the national anthem before Game 1, this World Series had a fresh look. In the allegorical pitching matchup, Tradition took a beating.
Hershiser spent the days leading up to the opener defending himself against accusations that he throws a spitter. Once the game began he established beyond a reasonable doubt that he had absolutely nothing on the ball. The Marlins blasted the man who had lost only one of 16 career postseason starts for seven earned runs; no pitcher had allowed more in the previous 545 World Series games. Hernandez, who turned 22 in February, pitched serviceable into the sixth inning to become the youngest pitcher to win a Game 1, as Florida prevailed 7-4.
"This isn't the kind of Series I'm used to," Hershiser said before the thrashing. "It's a Series where we're writing history instead of reliving it."
The only thing harder than packing for this World Series (snow flurries were forecast for games in Cleveland this week) was predicting it. In Game 2 on Sunday night Indians righthander Chad Ogea, who had a losing record (8-9) in the 1997 regular season, thoroughly outpitched Marlins ace righty Kevin Brown, who had not lost in 14 starts since July 27. Brown allowed 10 hits in Cleveland's 6-1 win, including two to shortstop Omar Vizquel, who had struggled so badly in his previous 29 postseason at bats that he had had as many hits as Hanson—one.
The Series, to the apparent delight of both teams, lacked a clear favorite. As Indians DH-outfielder David Justice, a former Brave said, "I think everybody is tired of seeing the Braves in the World Series." The Marlins and the Indians each peddled the no-one-expected-us-to-be-here position. That was as difficult to buy as an undeveloped corner between Miami and Palm Beach. In truth the Indians, with a $60 million payroll, outspent every team in baseball except the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, and the Marlins finished fourth in that department ($53.7 million).