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Florida to face Cleveland - a Series simply meant to be?

What happens when two teams of destiny clash?

The baseball world will find out when the upstart Florida Marlins and the equally surprising Cleveland Indians meet starting Saturday in Miami for a best-of-seven World Series that will be played to a distinctly Latin American beat.In two scintillating league championship series, each of the survivors beat the team with the best record in its league and each overcame some daunting injuries.

But neither manager thinks anything spooky is going on.

You get this far, said Cleveland skipper Mike Hargrove, not because of magic or fate but "because you mind your P's and Q's and you've got talent."

In addition, he said, "This club has shown a lot of heart, a lot of character."

"In my opinion, the best two teams are here," said Florida's Jim Leyland. "We've proved that."

Not exactly. The Indians won fewer games in the regular season than the other three A.L. postseason contenders.

"If you read things and you hear things we were kind of surprised to be here in the first place according to I don't know who, but we believe in ourselves," said Cleveland third baseman Matt Williams.

A string of odd incidents have suggested the Indians might be getting some supernatural help. The latest and biggest came after a Tony Fernandez line drive in practice knocked teammate Bip Roberts out of a start in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series in Baltimore.

Eleven taut innings later, Fernandez, playing in place of Roberts, hit the home run - his first in 37 postseason games - that gave the Indians a 1-0 win over the Orioles despite being outhit 10-3. The devout Dominican said afterward that God had a plan to put him in the game.

Similarly, veteran Darren Daulton has said he couldn't rule out the possibility that "divine intervention" was working on behalf of the Marlins, the first wild card to reach the World Series. They made it in just the fifth year of their existence, the quickest any expansion team has done it.

Both teams have produced sparkling plays in the field, especially at shortstop where Omar Vizquel dazzles for Cleveland and Edgar Renteria shines for Florida, and both clubs have had their catchers emerge as stars, Sandy Alomar for the Indians and Charles Johnson for the Fish.

The Marlins - their wives' maracas drowning out the pseudo-Indian chants of Braves fans - earned the state of Florida's first World Series by beating Atlanta in six games.

The squad from Miami, with a profusion of Spanish-surnamed players taking the spotlight in the most Latin American of U.S. cities, outplayed a team that had reached four of the previous five World Series. The Fish vanquished the Cy Young trio of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine - $130 million-plus worth of pitching.

Of course, the Marlins also spent a little cash.

The figure thrown around by those who accuse the Marlins of buying a title is $89 million - the amount committed this year to acquire a batch of free agents including hitting stars Bobby Bonilla and Moises Alou and pitcher Alex Fernandez.

But the total does not include manager Jim Leyland's $7.5 million and Gary Sheffield's $60 million extension.

Leyland felt that all that money increased the pressure of expectations. "We were set up for disaster - or great things," Leyland said.

The Marlins achieved great things in the NLCS despite a disastrous rotator cuff injury to Fernandez, a wrist injury to leading RBI man Alou and a viral infection that bumped ace and Game 1 winner Kevin Brown back two starts before his gutsy complete-game victory in Game 6.

Stepping into the breach was Cuban rookie Livan Hernandez. The 22-year-old righthander, after earning a victory in relief in Game 3, started for Brown in Game 5 and won on a three-hitter, tying a League Championship Series record with 15 strikeouts. He was the NLCS Most Valuable Player.

In Game 1 of the World Series, Hernandez, who ran away from the Cuban national team in 1995, goes against 39-year-old veteran Orel Hershiser, a wily righty who would have pitched Game 7 of the ALCS if it had gone that far.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Would-be MVPs

Following is a list of players on the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins who have contract bonuses for being named the Most Valuable Player in the World Series.

CLEVELAND: Sandy Alomar, Tony Fernandez, Marquis Grissom, Orel Hershiser, Mike Jackson, Dave Justice, Alvin Morman, Charles Nagy, Manny Ramirez, Bip Roberts and Jim Thome. All but Thome would receive $50,000; Thome would get $25,000.

FLORIDA: Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Brown, John Cangelosi, Jeff Conine, Dennis Cook, Jim Eisenreich, Alex Fernandez, Al Leiter, Robb Nen, Gary Sheffield and Devon White. All but Fernandez would get $50,000; Fernandez, who is hurt and will not play, had a clause for $100,000.