Fishin’ for 3

Oct 21, 2003 6:20 AM

The 2003 World Series is now a best of five affair after the New York Yankees and Florida Marlins split the first two games in New York.

Despite the relative lack of mass appeal of having the Marlins rather than the

hicago Cubs representing the National League in the Fall Classic, this series has every indication of being competitive and going the distance.

Last week in previewing the four possible matchups it was suggested that the Yankees would have more difficulty in defeating the Marlins than they would in defeating the Cubs. That is partly because of Florida’s well-balanced offense that can produce runs in many ways and a defense that is as solid as any in major league baseball. And Florida’s bullpen has been steady all season.

Recognition is finally being given to the fact that the Marlins had the best record in all of baseball since late May. That the Marlins are in the World Series is, pardon the pun, no "fluke."

In projecting the rest of the series it is noted that Florida now has the home field edge by having the next three games at Pro Players Stadium. But it is only an advantage if the home team wins those games.

It’s hard to expect the Marlins to sweep the next three games from the Yankees but they do have an excellent chance to take Game 3 on Tuesday.

Josh Beckett, who was outstanding in his Game 5 start against the Cubs and then later in relief, starts and is a slight underdog against Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina. The "over/under" opened at 8 and has been heavily bet towards the "under."

Our selection is: FLORIDA and UNDER.

Even if the "under" is lowered to 7½ by the time the first pitch is thrown; we’ll stick with the selection. The Game 4 matchup is expected to be New York’s Roger Clemens against Carl Pavano, who pitched in relief in Game 2. The Yankees would be a solid play if they lose Game 3, but the price might be prohibitive.

Our selection: YANKS - 1½, OVER 8½.

Runs in what is likely to be Clemens’ final appearance in the majors. We’ll also take the "over" is the posted total is less than 8½ in what could be Clemens last start in the majors before retiring.

In Game 5, Florida would be the play provided they are not up in games 3-1. At 2-2 or down 3-1, Florida would be a nicely priced underdog in its final home game of the season.

If the series goes at least six, the team trailing 3-2 would be the play. If the Yankees are in that position they again would be best played - 1½ since they would be extremely aggressive early on facing elimination.

If the series does go the full seven games it would be hard to bet against the Yankees at home. But New York will be too highly priced. Since neither Grady Little nor Dusty Baker is managing in this series you can expect to see the bullpen emptied of both relievers and rested starters at the first sign of trouble for either starter.

Thus the "under" would be the most attractive option, especially at a line of 8 or higher.

It was a great season for the Cubs and Red Sox and even better for the Florida Marlins. But the New York Yankees and their $180 million payroll opened as the favorites to win it all.

And that is the result we expect.