MIAMI - The official start of Showdown Series 2 is tomorrow, but leave it to the Florida Marlins to kick a staff while it's down by handing the Braves their worst shutout loss in the nine years they have been visiting Pro Player Stadium, 8-0.
Braves manager Bobby Cox was uncertain whom to choose from a beleaguered bullpen Saturday night, a concern the Marlins addressed by scoring against starter John Burkett and the first two relievers Cox reluctantly sent to the mound.
"We didn't do a whole lot tonight," Cox said.
It started badly for the Braves, who haven't put together consecutive wins yet, and got worse.
The Marlins didn't hit a home run, but still scored more runs than the Reds or Mets managed against the Braves last week. Of their 11 hits, four went for extra bases. Charles Johnson, off to a .167 start, knocked in three runs with a pair of doubles, and Cliff Floyd reached base three times and scored three runs.
"I'm officially declaring we're back in the race now, and I don't mean the wild card," said Marlins manager John Boles, happy to see an end to his club's 0-4 start. "We're back in the hunt."
Stung by the surprising Phillies during their first series and beaten by the Braves Friday, the Marlins vented their frustrations against Burkett, the former Marlin who not only was clocked by Preston Wilson for three hits but also betrayed by his own teammates.
A crowd of 27,224 saw the Braves pay dearly for careless defense. Brian Jordan's inability to catch Mike Lowell's soft fly in the first kept the Braves on their heels all night. It was Jordan's ball, but as he converged with second baseman Quilvio Veras, it was center fielder Andruw Jones who raced into the picture and called for it.
The ball glanced off his glove and rolled away. Instead of the end of the inning, the Marlins led 2-0. The Braves' odds of winning the game evaporated quickly in the third. Eric Owens walked, Floyd singled and Wilson followed with a run-scoring double, just out of the reach of Jordan.
More carnage followed, which tends to happen against Burkett, who has given up 200 more hits than innings pitched during his career. Lowell was intentionally walked to load the bases and Johnson lashed a double against the left field scoreboard to make it 5-0.
"I didn't throw the ball well at all, plain and simple," said Burkett, who lasted just four innings and allowed seven hits and five runs. "Obviously, I wasn't throwing the ball where I wanted to all night."
Marlins starter Ryan Dempster, who impressed Cox during the major league tour of Japan last fall, took a walk on the wild side, issuing five free passes and throwing 108 pitches in six innings.
The Braves' best chance to score came in the third, when they loaded the bases with one out on a single by Rico Brogna and walks to Rafael Furcal and Veras. But Jones, 2 for 3 with runners in scoring position in the early going, tapped back to the mound and Dempster started a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat.
In the fifth, the Braves loaded the bases on walks to pinch hitter Keith Lockhart and Chipper Jones and shortstop Alex Gonzalez's error, but Dave Martinez rolled out to first to end the inning.
"We're swinging at balls and taking strikes," hitting coach Merv Rettenmund said. "If you swing at the pitches we swung at, you're not going to get many hits and you're not going to score any runs."
The Braves had just six hits, their bats taking on a sudden chill after an 11-hit salute in Friday's 7-5 win over the Marlins. Andruw Jones, the No. 3 hitter, has not driven in a run with a hit other than a home run. After a three-hit performance Friday, left fielder Dave Martinez went 0 for 4 and Veras remains buried in his slump, which is now 1 for 22 after an 0 for 3.
The team is batting a collective .237 and Saturday night was the fourth time in six games it has been held to four or fewer runs.
"It's going to come sooner or later," Veras said, speaking of his own troubles, but could have been pointing to the team's offensive woes. "If it was August or September, I'd be frustrated, but it's too early for that."
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