Conine breaks slump with slam

MIAMI (AP) -- Jeff Conine can spend the All-Star break savoring a
big hit, instead of fretting about the worst slump of his career.

Conine ended a woeful stretch with a grand slam Sunday for the
Florida Marlins, helping Dontrelle Willis beat the New York Mets
for the fifth time in as many tries, 5-2.

Mired in a 3-for-34 slump, Conine broke up a scoreless tie with
his sixth career grand slam in the third inning off Al Leiter

"It basically was the same pitch I popped up in my first
at-bat," Conine said. "I missed it the first time. I got it the
second time."

Willis (7-5) allowed two runs in 6 1-3 innings. In five career
starts against New York he's 5-0 with an ERA of 1.05.

"Just one of those things, and I hope it continues," he said.
"It's just the luck of the draw, I guess."

Armando Benitez completed the six-hitter with a perfect ninth
for his 30th save in 32 chances. He has pitched 11 consecutive
scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 0.98.

The Marlins improved to 45-43, matching their third-best record
at the All-Star break. The win gave them back-to-back victories for
the first time since June 22-23, and they're just 1½ games behind
NL East leader Philadelphia.

"Not a bad place to be when you've been playing as poorly as
we've been playing the past month," Conine said.

New York slipped to fourth in the division, but just two games
behind Philadelphia.

The temperature at the start was 93 degrees, and Leiter labored
in the heat. The left-hander threw 88 pitches in three innings,
reaching a 3-2 count on six batters.

"I was trying to conserve some energy and keep the pitch count
down," Leiter said. "I did exactly what I was trying not to do."

Juan Pierre doubled in the third, and consecutive two-out walks
to Miguel Cabrera and Mike Lowell loaded the bases. Conine then
pulled a 1-1 pitch over the scoreboard for his sixth home run this
season, hiking his average with runners in scoring position to

"He has struggled, and people questioned why I put him in the
lineup," manager Jack McKeon said. "But you've got to have
respect for what he's done in the past, and you can't just quit on
him. I was rooting for him and hoping he'd turned things around.
Maybe this is a positive thing to get him going."

Conine's average is .256, but he said he felt as though he was
batting .220 because of the slump.

"It's the worst of my career," said Conine, 38. "I just want
to forget about it, take the break, have a good time with my kids
and come back relaxed on Thursday."

Leiter, who lost for the first time since May 11, departed after
the third inning. His shortest outing this year raised his ERA from
2.05 to 2.40.

"He was one pitch away from a zero on the board," manager Art
Howe said.

Lowell drove in Florida's other run with a two-out double in the
seventh off Mike Stanton after Luis Castillo tripled.

Willis won for the first time in his past five starts. He left
in the seventh after giving up consecutive doubles to Ty Wigginton
and Shane Spencer, followed by Vance Wilson's one-out RBI single to
make the score 4-2.

Billy Koch retired the next two batters to end the inning, then
struck out the side in the eighth.

Spencer and Mike Cameron singled to start the Mets' fifth, but
Willis retired the next three batters.

"He's tough all the time," Spencer said. "He throws a lot of
arms and legs at you. We hit some balls hard, but we didn't have
the hits."

Game notes
The hitter with the highest average in either lineup
starting the game: Willis, who went 0-for-3, dropping him to .286.
... Conine has four grand slams with the Marlins, which ties him
with Derrek Lee for the franchise lead. ... Third baseman Lowell
dropped a pop foul when he collided with first baseman Hee Seop
Choi, who was charged with an error. The batter, Kaz Matsui, then
grounded out. ... Leiter's record at Pro Player Stadium fell to