MIAMI -- It may be a television executive's nightmare, but the 93rd World Series is creating a lot of excitement in South Florida. The Florida Marlins have gone from expansion draft to Fall Classic faster than any other modern franchise. They are the first wild-card team to get past the league championship series. And they have a mascot that wears a giant plastic fishhead.
What more could anyone ask?
Well, the network types could ask for the mega-market New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they could not ask for a more compelling storyline when the Marlins meet the American League champion Cleveland Indians in Game 1 at Pro Player Stadium.
Cuban defector Livan Hernandez will get the starting assignment against hardened postseason veteran Orel Hershiser. The 22-year-old rookie -- the standard-bearer for expatriate Cubans everywhere, and especially here in Miami -- against the most accomplished postseason pitcher of his generation.
Hernandez stepped into the spotlight during the National League Championship Series, striking out 15 batters in a complete-game victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5. Hershiser stepped into the twilight during the ALCS and recharged his reputation as a great clutch pitcher when he threw seven scoreless innings during Mike Mussina's 15-strikeout performance in Game 3 at Jacobs Field.
"I'd just like to be able to throw the ball the way I did against Mussina and the Orioles," Hershiser said. "I don't think I'll get the shadows at 8 o'clock, but I'll take the same stuff."
He'll be making his second historic start in Miami. He was the starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first regular-season major-league game played in Miami, on Opening Day in 1993.
Hernandez has carved out a small place in baseball history. His ** 15 strikeouts last week set an NLCS record and tied the LCS record set by Mussina the day before.
It is certain to be a pitched battle, but the eventual world champion probably will be the team that figures out how to get the big hits -- as both clubs did during the playoffs.
The Marlins batted a combined .199 and were outscored by the Braves in the NLCS, but still won the best-of-seven series in six games. The Indians took a similar route, batting .193 and scoring fewer runs (19-18) than the Orioles during their six-game victory in the ALCS.
"I keep hearing that we hit under .200," said Bobby Bonilla, who left the Orioles as a free agent last winter and ended up reaching the World Series ahead of them. "But I don't remember the Braves hitting over .400. The bottom line is you have to pitch well. You really do. And you have to have some timely hits."
Marlins manager Jim Leyland, who finally reached the World Series after several near-misses with the Pittsburgh Pirates, will take the big hits over the big numbers any day. He has come out on the wrong end of a few of them over the years -- most notably the Francisco Cabrera single that pulled him back from the threshold of the 1992 World Series.
"I think the reason these two teams are here is because they played extremely hard," Leyland said. "Cleveland plays nine innings. We know that going in. We have a lot of respect for that. There's a reason they got here. They make big plays.
"[Indians manager] Mike Hargrove made a tremendous call on a wheel play [to get a forceout on a Roberto Alomar bunt in Game 6 of the ALCS]. They got a great out on that play. Even though they didn't hit as well as they normally do, they got the big ones. Sometimes, it's not how many you get, it's when you get them. They got them all at the right time."
If there is a team that appears to have fate riding shotgun, it would be the Indians, who were on their way out of the Division Series when Sandy Alomar hit a game-tying home run off closer Mariano Rivera in Game 4. The Indians also appeared to be finished in the ALCS when they were revived by a game-turning three-run home run by Marquis Grissom in Game 2.
The Indians went on to win Game 3 on a blown squeeze play and Game 4 with the help of a two-run wild pitch, but the Marlins have been riding a wave of positive energy the past couple of weeks, too.
"I think we had the same thing," said first baseman Jeff Conine. "We won 24 or 25 times in our final at-bat this year. We know that the last three innings are ours. If we're within a run or two, we know we're not out of it."
So, whom do you root for? The team that got into the postseason on a pass or the one that had the fourth-best record in the American League?
The Marlins probably are the tougher sell, since they basically bought their way into the postseason with a winter spending spree that took baseball's salary structure up another notch or two. They might be the first franchise to try and buy a championship team and sell it the same year.
Billionaire Wayne Huizenga decided at midseason that the club's revenue stream was not sufficient to make the franchise a prudent business venture, and put it up for sale just months after signing several high-priced free agents and giving Gary Sheffield a $60 million contract extension.
The Indians, meanwhile, have made a couple of hard decisions to keep their payroll under control, allowing Albert Belle to become a free agent last winter and trading away center fielder Kenny Lofton before his option year.
The result has been a more likable club that had to force itself into the national consciousness at a time when the networks would have preferred any of the three other AL postseason entrants.
vs. Florida Marlins
+ (Best of seven; chs. 11, 4)
Day .. .. ..Site .. .. ...Time
Tonight .. .at Florida ...8:05
Tomorrow ...at Florida ...7:35
Tuesday .. .at Clev. .. ..8:20
Wed. .. .. .at Clev. .. ..8:20
Thursday ...at Clev. .. .8:20*
Oct. 25 .. .at Florida .....8*
Oct. 26 .. .at Florida .7: 35*
Pub Date: 10/18/97