Originally created 09/14/03

Braves fall to Marlins



MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins drew their biggest crowd in more than two years - and quickly gave the fans plenty to cheer about.

Miguel Cabrera capped a six-run first inning with a three-run homer, and the NL wild-card leaders won their seventh consecutive game by beating Atlanta 8-3 Saturday night.

With Florida in a playoff race in September for the first time since 1997, the game attracted a crowd of 40,414, the Marlins' largest since July 13, 2001, against the New York Yankees.

"They should come out every night," winning pitcher Dontrelle Willis said. "I think they notice we're playing good ball. I think they appreciate us, and we appreciate them."

Florida is 2 1/2 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in the wild-card standings.

"There's pressure on them," Cabrera said. "If we keep playing like this, we can get there."

The Marlins' winning streak is their longest since Aug. 6-13, 1999, and they're 18 games above .500 for the first time in six years.

NL East leader Atlanta has lost three in a row and eight of 13.

"We've been in this situation before," said Javy Lopez, who hit his 40th home run. "We know how to get out of it. Tomorrow is a new day. You'll see a different team out there."

Lopez's homer was his 39th as a catcher - leaving him two shy of the major league record for a backstop set by Todd Hundley of the New York Mets in 1996. Johnny Bench hit 45 homers for Cincinnati in 1970, but only 38 came while he was in games as a catcher.

Atlanta still leads Florida by 8 1/2 games in the NL East.

Russ Ortiz (19-7), trying to become the NL's first 20-game winner, instead allowed the first five Florida batters to score. Juan Encarnacion hit a two-run single in the first, and the stadium got loud when Cabrera's 10th homer made it 6-0.

"A great, great, great crowd," manager Jack McKeon said. "When we get big crowds like that, we seem to play good. It seems to energize us."

It had been exactly one year since the Marlins scored six runs in the first inning. They did it Sept. 13, 2002, against another Braves pitcher, Greg Maddux.

Ortiz allowed eight hits and seven runs in three innings - his shortest outing this year. He's 2-2 with an ERA of 7.16 over his past six starts.

"I could care less about 20 wins," Ortiz said. "I'm worried about winning a game."

Cabrera went 3-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs. He's batting .419 against the Braves this season (13-for-31) with four home runs and 10 RBIs.

Staked to the big early lead, Willis (13-6) allowed eight hits but just two runs in six innings.

"That team can get six runs right back," he said. "You get after them like it's 0-0, and I made good pitches when I had to."

Willis has won his past two starts after losing four decisions in a row.

The Braves had at least one hit in every inning, but Florida's defense helped prevent a comeback. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez and second baseman Luis Castillo made dazzling plays, and the Marlins played their sixth consecutive errorless game, a season high.

The Marlins, who have won 13 of their past 15 games, started fast. Juan Pierre led off the first with a double, Castillo singled and Ivan Rodriguez singled home a run. Jeff Conine walked to load the bases, and Encarnacion's single made it 3-0.

After Derrek Lee struck out, Cabrera hit his 10th home run down the right-field line.

"Six runs - that was a spark for us," Cabrera said. "We have faith in Dontrelle, but it does a lot for the team to score six early."

Cabrera also doubled home a run in the third.

Notes: The Marlins have averaged 26,097 fans in the eight home games Willis has started since July 1. They've averaged 13,615 in their other home games. ... Pierre's double in the first was his 186th hit, surpassing Castillo's team record of 185 set last year. ... Lee stole a base to reach 20 steals and 20 homers for the first time. He struck out in his lone at-bat against Ortiz, dropping his lifetime average against the right-hander to .077 (2-for-26). ... The Marlins retired Mark DeRosa 5-4-3 to end the fourth. Third baseman Cabrera tried for a forceout at second and threw high, but Castillo quickly relayed to first. ... Ortiz's outing was his shortest since July 26, 2002, when he went two innings against Los Angeles.