Jackass Jack

Don't blame McKeon for the Marlins downfall? Who are you kidding?

September 17: In what turned out to be the pivotal game of the season, the Marlins were facing Philadelphia at Pro Player. On the mound was the true class of the team, Dontrelle Willis, who threw eight innings of sheer shutout beauty. With a thin 2-0 lead over the dangerous Phillies, McKeon had a decision to make in the ninth: push his luck with Willis, who'd already thrown 110 pitches on a blazing hot day, or bring in Todd Jones, the Marlins' lights-out closer. He stuck with Willis, which was understandable, at least to give him a shot. But Willis immediately gave up a hard-hit single to Jimmy Rollins. Then he gave up his first walk of the game. The D-Train was out of coal. Unforgivably, Jackass left the star pitcher in to face Bobby Abreu, one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Abreu promptly cracked a hard grounder to the left of second-baseman Luis Castillo, who couldn't handle it. Error by Castillo, but it was a tough play. That halved the lead to 2-1 and left men on the corners with no outs. Jones, left with a near-impossible task, couldn't save the Marlins. Then the entire team disintegrated before our eyes, giving up ten ugly runs before it was over.

September 21: Despite the meltdown and a subsequent extra-innings loss to the Mets, the Marlins still had a slim chance. They were three games back of Houston with 11 to play. They needed to start by beating the so-so Mets in Shea Stadium. Down 3-2 in the eighth, the Marlins got two scrappy runs to take a 4-3 lead. McKeon had a simple mission: Get the team through the eighth to get the ball to Jones. So who did Jackass put in as the set-up man? I couldn't believe my eyes. It was... Ron Villone. This was the same man who'd racked up an 8.15 ERA with the Marlins after less than two months with the team. Just four days before, in the meltdown game, he'd been bombed by the Phillies. Three days before that, he'd been responsible for two runs in the seventh during a close game against Houston (ensuring another loss for Burnett). Prior to that, Villone was a general disaster. This would be no different. Villone walked Beltran on five pitches and then gave up a single to Floyd. The table was set for disaster. Jackass handed the ball to Antonio Alfonseca, who had to deal with men on the corners with no outs. He gave a strong effort but couldn't keep Beltran from scoring. New York won 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth.

And that, good fan, would be the season's final crushing loss (all the rest were anticlimactic). Through it all, McKeon retained the attitude of a horse-like creature's hind end. The Herald's Robertson, in her defense of McKeon last week, wrote of a TV reporter's questioning McKeon about not pulling Willis sooner during that devastating Phillies game. "The next time your insights are better than mine, I would really appreciate a call in the dugout," McKeon snapped at the reporter before badgering him for the next ten minutes.

Robertson didn't see anything wrong with that kind of behavior, apparently because of that brilliant fingernail. Unfortunately, Jack has been making his decisions with another part of the body, a place that never sees the light of day or the beauty of reason. He gave fans an unforgettable gift two years ago. Now, as he heads off to pasture, he's giving us another one: watching him say goodbye to South Florida.

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