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Florida cruises to seventh straight victory

9/14/2003

MIAMI (AP) -- 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 2½ 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{ 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 RBI. He's
batting .419 against the Braves this season (13-for-31) with four
home runs and 10 RBI.

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.

Game 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.