Houston (59-51) at Miami (60-50)

Cloudy Currently: Miami Gardens, FL
Temp: 77° F
  • Game info: 1:35 pm EDT Sun Aug 3, 2003
  • TV: FSSW, WPXM
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Mike Lowell’s career year is one of many reasons why the Florida Marlins are the hottest thing in sun-drenched Miami this summer.

The All-Star third baseman and the surging Marlins look to continue their wild card push in the decisive game of their weekend series with the NL Central-leading Houston Astros at Pro Player Stadium.

Lowell hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and Carl Pavano held the Astros hitless until the sixth in Saturday’s 5-2 victory.

Powered by Lowell, who reached the 30-homer mark for the first time in his career, the Marlins improved to 7-1 on their eight-game homestand.

“Does it bring special privileges now?” joked Lowell of the 30-homer plateau. “I’m in uncharted waters this whole year. It feels great.”

Because of a nucleus that includes Lowell, rookie pitching phenom Dontrelle Willis, 10-time All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriquez and speedster Juan Pierre, the Marlins are enjoying their best campaign since 1997, when they capped a magical season with their first World Series title.

The wild card winner that year, Florida is making a bid for this season’s berth, standing just two games behind the wild card-leading Philadelphia Phillies.

Their fans have noticed.

With 25,206 on hand Saturday, the Marlins surpassed their ticket sales for all of last season. Attendance in Miami is up 45 percent overall.

“When you get a big crowd, you want to have a good performance to keep them coming back,” Lowell said. “I think we’re doing that. We’re giving the fans their money’s worth.”

Houston lost to Florida for the first time in five meetings this season, reducing its lead in the Central to just one game over St. Louis. The Astros have totaled seven hits and four runs in the first two games of the series.

“We’re just not getting it done offensively,” slugger Jeff Bagwell said. “When you’re scoring two or three runs every night, that’s not going to make it. Back in the ’60s it might have, but not today.

“We’re going to have to find a way to get our offense jump-started.”

STANDINGS: Astros - 1st place, NL Central. Marlins - 3rd place, 13 GB, NL East.

ASTROS PROBABLE STARTER: Jared Fernandez (no appearances). Fernandez was recalled from Triple-A New Orleans on Thursday after the Astros designated struggling right-hander Pete Munro for assignment. Fernandez, a non-roster invitee to spring training, was 7-10 with a 3.81 ERA in 26 appearances for the Zephyrs, striking out 51 and walking 33. Munro was 3-4 with a 4.67 ERA in 40 appearances for the Astros over the last two seasons, including two starts.

MARLINS PROBABLE STARTER: Mark Redman (9-4, 2.89 ERA). Redman is 4-1 over his last six starts, but has been even more impressive in his last three outings, going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA. The left-hander yielded just two runs and six hits over 7 1-3 innings in Monday’s 3-2 win over Arizona, striking out five and walking two. Redman, who spent the first five years of his career in the AL, makes his first career start against Houston.

OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Astros - Richard Hidalgo, .314 avg.; Bagwell, 24 HRs and 73 runs; Lance Berkman, 67 RBIs; Bagwell and Adam Everett, 6 SBs. Marlins - Luis Castillo, .320 avg. and 72 runs; Lowell, 30 HRs and 90 RBIs; Pierre, 52 SBs.

SEASON SERIES: Astros, 4-1.

STREAKS AND NOTES: Astros - 1B Bagwell has driven in a run in 30 of his last 32 games. … The Astros are in a stretch in which they play 14 of their first 17 second-half games on the road. … RHP Dan Miceli, whose complaints while with the Marlins contributed to the firing of manager John Boles in 2001, drew jeers when he entered Saturday’s game in the fifth. He is the first player in baseball history to pitch for teams in four different divisions in one season. Marlins - 3B Lowell became the just fourth Florida player to hit 30 home runs, joining former Marlins Gary Sheffield, Cliff Floyd and Preston Wilson. He’s batting .450 (9-for-20) with runners in scoring position since the All-Star break. … Florida relievers have tossed 16 1-3 scoreless innings over the last six games. … The Marlins have won nine of their last 10 home games, and are 16-4 in their last 20 at Pro Player Stadium.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Astros - 26-31 on the road; Marlins - 35-22 at home.

INJURIES: Astros - INF Jose Vizcaino (wrist), 15-day DL; LHP Carlos Hernandez (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Roy Oswalt (groin), 15-day DL; RHP Rodrigo Rosario (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Brian Moehler (elbow), 60-day DL. Marlins - RHP Kevin Olsen (concussion), 15-day DL; RHP Tim Spooneybarger (arm), 15-day DL; RHP Toby Borland (appendicitis), 60-day DL; RHP A.J. Burnett (elbow), 60-day DL.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Fernandez Mil vs. M. Redman Col
3-3 Record 14-9
3.99 ERA 3.59
19 K 151
12 BB 61
1.28 WHIP 1.22