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Marlins rally to win in McKeon's final game on job

MIAMI (AP) -- When Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon told his
players Sunday he was calling it quits, they responded with
applause and hugs -- and then a comeback win.

Rookie Jeremy Hermida hit a two-run homer with two outs in the
ninth inning, and Juan Pierre's two-out RBI single in the 10th beat
the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves 7-6.

McKeon's resignation had been expected, and he confirmed it to
the team in the clubhouse before the game.

"He got very emotional when he told us, like your granddad is
going away and you're not going to see him anymore," veteran Jeff
Conine said. "It's tough for him. Baseball is his life."

McKeon led the Marlins to the 2003 World Series title and a
winning record in each of his three seasons as manager. Now 74, he
said he told his family last year that this season would be his
last, and he decided almost two months ago to keep that pledge. But
he didn't rule out managing again.

"The last couple of years I haven't had as much fun as I'd
like," McKeon said. "Since I'm the leader, I'll take full
responsibility for the poor year we had."

Florida was touted as a likely playoff team but faded in
September for the second year in a row and finished 83-79. Players
grumbled about McKeon's gruff style, but injuries, poor relief
pitching and a lack of clutch hitting made his job difficult.

The Braves, who clinched their 14th consecutive division title
Tuesday, begin the playoffs at home Wednesday against Houston. The
Astros eliminated Atlanta in the division series last year.

"Anything that can help us get motivated is good enough for
me," second baseman Marcus Giles said. "If it's about revenge,
then that's what it might take."

Right-hander John Smoltz said he expects to start Game 1 for
Atlanta.

"It should be an exciting series," he said, "but I don't
foresee a lot of runs being scored."

With Bobby Cox's regulars seeing limited action, the Braves lost
their final four regular-season games. They were one out from
winning the finale when Hermida homered off Kyle Davies to force
extra innings.

Florida rookie Josh Wilson led off the 10th with a double off
Davies (7-6), and Pierre came through with his fifth hit, a two-out
RBI single off first baseman Adam LaRoche's glove.

Florida led 4-3 when Todd Jones replaced Dontrelle Willis, who
was bidding for his 23rd victory. Five singles helped the Braves
score three runs in the eighth inning off Jones, who blew a save
for the fifth time in 45 chances.

Willis struck out a career-high 12 and shrugged off his failure
to become the first 23-game winner since 2002.

"We won," he said. "It's a sweet feeling going out and
shaking hands on the final day."

Willis said he was saddened by McKeon's decision to resign.

"He's a great baseball mind," Willis said. "But he wants to
get with his family, and you've got to respect that."

The third-oldest manager in major-league history, McKeon will
remain with the Marlins as an adviser -- and he's open to offers
from other teams.

"Sometimes you need to step back and maybe take a breather for
six or seven months and get recharged," he said. "I haven't given
up the thought of managing again."

McKeon, who began his managerial career in the minors 50 years
ago, became the 52nd manager to earn 1,000 major-league wins Sept.
3. Three of the Marlins' four winning seasons came since he came on
board in May 2003.

"He taught our organization to work hard," general manager
Larry Beinfest said. "That set the tone for all the good things
that happened to us."

Beinfest said the team will likely wait until after the World
Series to hire a replacement.

The Marlins held a one-game lead in the NL wild-card race Sept.
14 but lost 12 of their next 14 games. The meltdown included the
banishment of pitcher A.J. Burnett for criticizing McKeon and his
staff as being unsupportive and too conservative.

McKeon said he thanked his players for their efforts during the
clubhouse meeting before his final game.

"I also told them," he said with a smile, "that if I offended
anybody and hurt their feelings, it wasn't on purpose."

Game notes
With the Miami Dolphins off, the crowd included team owner
Wayne Huizenga. ... Willis batted seventh -- the fourth consecutive
time he has hit higher than ninth -- and singled leading off the
seventh to hike his average to .261.