BOSTON — This being the fast-food era, it was only a matter of time before a baseball team rushed a championship to the counter like it was an order of fries.
The San Diego Padres, once owned by McDonald's tycoon Ray Kroc, hadn't been able to do it, but the Florida Marlins, a playoff wild-card in only their fifth year of existence, microwaved a championship quicker than any team in history. (The previous record, by the way, belonged to the New York Mets, whose miracle season occurred seven years after the National League's first modern-era expansion.)
The Marlins bettered the Mets' turnaround time by beating Cleveland in a dramatic seven-game World Series. In doing so, they made sure there was no joy in Mudville (long-suffering, old-guard baseball towns like Cleveland, Chicago, and Boston) because tradition struck out - thanks, in part, to the $89 million offseason investment the Marlins made in high-profile free agents.
Owner Wayne Huizenga, who may sell the team after losing millions, also paid a princely sum to hire respected manager Jim Leyland, who had experienced his share of postseason heartbreak guiding the penurious Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cleveland, which actually had a higher team payroll than Florida, was trying to end the fourth-longest championship drought (49 years) in the game's history, a wait that put them behind only the Cubs, White Sox, and Red Sox in baseball's Slow-Cooker standings. For a long while Sunday night, it appeared that Cleveland was going to see its patience rewarded with a gutsy seventh-game win before 67,000 spectators in Miami.
The Tribe jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning, then held on throughout most of a classic pitching duel only to see Florida tie the score 2-2 with a run in the bottom of the ninth, then win it, 3-2, in the 11th. With the bases loaded, Florida shortstop Edgar Rentera slapped a single over the mound that eluded pitcher Charles Nagy and Cleveland's middle infielders and drove in the winning run.
This was a scintillating finish to what earlier was being ripped as an error-filled, lackluster World Series marked by worrisomely low TV ratings. The ABC network, in fact, devoted its Friday "Nightline" show to addressing the question: Whatever happened to the World Series? NBC, it should be noted, carried the games.
Say what you will about the 93rd World Series, it will go in the books as "memorable" on the basis of the last game alone.
Only one seventh-and-deciding World Series game had ever lasted longer, that a 1924 affair won in 12 innings by the Washington Senators.
For the record, this was only the fifth time anyone had won a deciding Game 7 on the final swing. Leave it to the Marlins, though, who won 24 times during the regular season in their final at-bat (a major-league high) and three times in the postseason.
For heroic symmetry, Rentera certainly takes the cake. He began the Marlins' first-ever postseason journey by driving home the winning run with a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth single that beat the San Francisco Giants.
Despite his unforgettable hit Sunday night, Rentera was not the World Series' Most Valuable Player. That honor, interestingly enough, went to a rookie pitcher who never even appeared in Games 6 and 7 in Miami.
Livan Hernndez, a Cuban defector whose mother was granted a visit for Sunday's game, was selected the MVP for his pitching victories in Games 1 and 5 when he out-dueled Orel Hershiser.
If Cleveland had held on to win Game 7, Jaret Wright, the Indians' equally precocious rookie, no doubt would have walked away with the MVP. He began the year in the minors and nearly matched Hernndez's two World Series wins. He had relinquished only two hits and one run in Sunday's game when replaced.
The Indian whose errant play will most likely be remembered for years to come is second baseman Tony Fernndez, whose surehandedness took an untimely leave of absence in the 11th. A grounder skipped past him into right field, opening the door on the Marlins' winning rally. Fernndez, ironically, hit the pennant-winning, 11th-inning home run that beat Baltimore and put the Indians in the World Series for the second time in three years.