Saturday, September 27, 2003

NL: Wild-card berth belongs to Marlins


Bonds two short of Mays

The Associated Press

MIAMI - With rainy weather, apathetic fans, unsettled ownership and losing records, the Florida Marlins provided comic relief in recent seasons. Look who's laughing now.

The surprising Marlins beat the New York Mets 4-3 Friday night to clinch their first playoff berth since winning the 1997 World Series. They'll face the NL West champion Giants in a best-of-five series beginning Tuesday in San Francisco.

"We always went to the playoffs in high school," said 23-year-old pitcher Josh Beckett, Florida's probable starter in the opening playoff game. "This time, I actually get to drink beer."

The Marlins trailed Philadelphia in the wild-card race last Saturday but pulled away with five consecutive wins. At 90-70, they're 20 games above .500 for the first time since '97.

The victory put 72-year-old manager Jack McKeon in the postseason for the first time. Florida is 74-48 (.607) since he took over May 11.

"We're all going to smoke cigars tonight," said McKeon, who has several boxes of them in his office. "This is the most fun I've ever had with any team. I love these guys."

Leadoff batter Juan Pierre, a catalyst all season, filled that role again in the clinching victory. He stole two bases to set a team record with 64, singled three times to reach a career high with 203 hits, and played a part in Florida's first three runs.

Carl Pavano (12-13), the No. 5 starter on a strong staff, limited New York to six hits and three runs in 7 1/3 innings. He retired 11 in a row at one point.

Jeff Conine, a regular on the 1997 Marlins, hit his fifth homer since rejoining Florida on Aug. 31. Derrek Lee triggered more cheers by driving in two runs with a double and a single.

Chad Fox struck out Timo Perez with the tying run at second to end the eighth inning. Ugueth Urbina pitched the ninth.

Giants 10, Dodgers 1

SAN FRANCISCO - After sitting in a clubhouse office talking with Willie Mays before the game, Barry Bonds hit his 658th home run and moved within two homers of tying his godfather for third on the career list.

He sent a 1-0 pitch from Kazuhisa Ishii (9-7) an estimated 392 feet into the seats in right-center for his 45th homer of the season, matching Philadelphia's Jim Thome and Milwaukee's Richie Sexson for the NL lead.

The NL West champions will play Florida, the wild-card winner, in the first round of the playoffs. The best-of-five series begins Tuesday in San Francisco with Jason Schmidt on the mound for the Giants.

Kirk Rueter (10-5) got all the offense he needed early to win his third straight decision.

Brewers 12, Astros 5

HOUSTON - Richie Sexson homered twice and doubled as Milwaukee dropped Houston a half-game behind idle Chicago in the NL Central. The Cubs' game with Pittsburgh was rained out and a doubleheader was scheduled at Wrigley Field for today.

Sexson hit an RBI double during a six-run second inning. He hit a solo homer off Rick White in the fifth and a two-run shot in the seventh off Kirk Bullinger.

Sexson has 45 homers this season, tying his own franchise record set in 2001. Gorman Thomas also hit 45 homers, in 1979. It was Sexson's fourth multihomer game this season and the 16th of his career.

Braves 6, Phillies 0

PHILADELPHIA - Horacio Ramirez pitched six sharp innings, and Atlanta moved closer to clinching home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

The Braves entered the night with a one-game lead over San Francisco for the best record in the league. The Giants played Los Angeles Friday night.

Diamondbacks 7, Cardinals 6

PHOENIX - Shea Hillenbrand's leadoff home run ignited a three-run sixth inning and the Arizona Diamondbacks eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals from the NL Central race.

Manager Tony La Russa wasn't in the dugout to see his team fail to reach the postseason for the first time since 1999. He and catcher Mike Matheny were serving the first of two-game suspensions stemming from recent run-ins with umpires.

Hillenbrand's 414-foot shot to straightaway center off Brett Tomko (13-9) tied it at 3.

Stephen Randolph (8-1) got the win.

Matt Mantei pitched the ninth for his 29th save in 32 opportunities. Jim Edmonds hit his 38th homer with two outs.

Padres 5, Rockies 0

SAN DIEGO - Adam Eaton and four relievers combined on an eight-hitter and the San Diego Padres opened their final series at Qualcomm Stadium by beating the Colorado Rockies.

After playing 35 years in the Mission Valley stadium, the Padres will move into their new ballpark near the waterfront, Petco Park, next spring.

The loss dropped the Rockies to 23-56 on the road, assuring them of their worst record ever away from Coors Field. Their previous worst was 26-55 last year.

In a matchup of the NL West's two worst teams, Eaton (9-12) allowed just four singles in seven innings while striking out four and walking one.

Rockies rookie Cory Vance (1-3) lost to the Padres for the second straight start.




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