<
>

Braves stun Marlins with five in ninth

9/15/2003

MIAMI (AP) -- On the verge of being swept by NL wild-card leader
Florida, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox turned to his bench.

That's where Chipper Jones and Javy Lopez sat.

The two sluggers came through in rare pinch-hit roles Sunday,
sparking a five-run ninth inning against Braden Looper for an 8-4
victory that ended the Marlins' seven-game winning streak.

Atlanta snapped a three-game losing streak and avoided being
swept by Florida in a three-game series for the first time since
1996.

"We've been struggling lately," said Robert Fick, whose
two-run single put the Braves ahead. "For us to come back in the
ninth, it let us know we've still got it, I guess."

The Marlins' defeat cut their lead in the wild-card standings to
1{ games over the Philadelphia Phillies, who beat Pittsburgh 10-7.

Florida begins a three-game series at Philadelphia on Tuesday.
The Marlins have beaten the Phils eight times in a row.

"This is the most important series of the year," Florida's
Juan Pierre said. "We need to do our job and get some distance
between us."

By salvaging the final game of the series in Miami, Atlanta
increased its lead over Florida in the NL East to 9{ games with two
weeks to go. The Braves are only 22-20 since Aug. 1.

"When you have such a big lead, you've really got nothing to
play for," Fick said. "I hate to say something like that, but
there really hasn't been any pressure on us. Guys are losing their
focus. Instead of getting on base, they're trying for a home run.

"It's kind of good getting our butts kicked. Today was a wakeup
call."

The alarm went off in the ninth, with Atlanta trailing 4-3. When
Vinny Castilla led off with a single, Cox turned to Jones and then
Lopez.

"That's tough," Florida manager Jack McKeon said. "They're
got some firepower over there. You knew it was coming."

Jones, on the bench nursing a turf toe, singled in only his
second pinch-hit at-bat this season. Lopez then walked to load the
bases against Looper (6-4).

Rafael Furcal hit a sacrifice fly to tie the score, and Gary
Sheffield walked to again load the bases. Fick singled for a 6-4
lead, and Andruw Jones hit a two-run triple.

Looper blew a save for the fifth time in 33 chances, costing
Josh Beckett a victory.

"I left a few balls up, and they were able to hit them,"
Looper said. "It's pretty frustrating. I basically blew it."

Looper was pitching for the third day in a row. McKeon bristled
at the suggestion his closer might be tired.

"Here we go again," McKeon said. "A guy loses a game, and
he's pitching too many games. The guy had a bad night, OK? Did you
see Eric Gagne have a bad game in the All-Star game? That happens
to the best of them.

"The last two nights he had super nights. Now he gets knocked
around, and he's pitching too many games. Why don't we just shut
him down for the year and pick up some guys off the street and see
if they can do the job?"

Looper hadn't allowed an earned run in September in the past two
years.

"I'd put him out there 10 times out of 10 times," Beckett
said. "He's going to be great down the stretch."

Will Cunnane (2-1) pitched a scoreless eighth for the Braves,
and Jaret Wright got Ivan Rodriguez to hit into a game-ending
double play.

Sheffield hit a three-run homer in the first inning off Beckett.
Derrek Lee's 30th homer gave Florida a 4-3 lead in the sixth.

Beckett took a streak of 17 2-3 consecutive scoreless innings
into the game, but after facing three batters he trailed 3-0.
Furcal walked, Mark De Rosa grounded a hit-and-run single through
the hole at shortstop and Sheffield lined a curve over the
scoreboard for his 36th homer.

"He hit a decent pitch," Beckett said.

It gave Sheffield a career-high 122 RBI. His previous best was
120 with the Marlins in 1996.

Beckett then retired 11 in a row. He gave up eight hits, struck
out a season-high 11 and stranded a runner in scoring position in
each of his final three innings.

"I had a rocky first inning," Beckett said. "I think I
battled all right."

Braves starter Shane Reynolds allowed four runs in six innings,
but their bullpen shut out Florida over the final three innings.

"Today was a great testament of what our club is about,"
Reynolds said.

Game notes
The Marlins played their seventh consecutive errorless
game, a season best. ... Lee became the fifth Marlin to hit 30
homers in a season. ... Reynolds is 1-4 in his past five starts
with an ERA of 8.54. ... Florida's only three-game sweep of Atlanta
came Sept. 24-26, 1996.