Russ Ortiz looks to become the National League’s first 20-game winner as he takes the mound for the Atlanta Braves against the Florida Marlins in the middle game of their series at Pro Player Stadium.
In his last start, Ortiz overcame a four-run first to earn his career-high 19th win, as the Braves rallied for a 6-4 victory over Philadelphia on Monday.
“I’ve battled with mechanical things before early in the game,” said Ortiz, who has given up 26 of his 94 runs in the first inning. He threw only 51 of 110 pitches for strikes, and walked four, passing the Chicago Cubs’ Kerry Wood for the NL lead with 94.
“I don’t really care about the walks,” Ortiz said. “I’ve walked a lot of guys every year. You see what happens when you throw a pitch over the middle of the plate. They hit a home run.”
Ortiz, an 18-game winner for San Francisco in 1999, isn’t thinking about personal accomplishments until the season is over.
“If I give us a chance to win the rest of the time and I don’t get any more wins, I wouldn’t be upset about how the year has gone,” he said.
Atlanta has dropped three of four, including Friday’s series opener 5-4.
Florida bounced back from a 4-2 deficit in the eighth inning to win its sixth game in a row, and increased its wild-card lead to 1 1/2 games over Philadelphia, which lost 8-4 at Pittsburgh.
“What a comeback,” manager Jack McKeon said. “These guys are exciting and fun to be around. They never quit.”
The Marlins have won 12 of their past 14 to climb a season-high 17 above .500.
“It’s quite a roll,” said Braden Looper, who pitched a perfect ninth for the victory. “Hopefully, it’s a team of destiny, because it’s a lot of fun.”
The victory was not without its low point, as starting pitcher Brad Penny was forced to leave the game in the first inning after suffering a hyperextended pitching elbow.
Penny, scheduled to make three more starts during the regular season, will undergo an MRI on Saturday.
The win was the team’s 82nd of the season, assuring Florida of the second winning season in the 11-year history of the franchise. The only other time the Marlins finished above .500 was in 1997, when they won the World Series as a wild card.
STANDINGS: Braves - 1st place, NL East. Marlins - 2nd place, 9 1/2 GB, NL East.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTER: Ortiz (19-6, 3.82 ERA). Ortiz is 5-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 10 career games against the Marlins.
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTER: Dontrelle Willis (12-6, 3.28 ERA). Before beating Montreal 3-1 on Sunday, Willis had dropped four of five starts. He limited the Expos to just one run and three hits over eight innings to earn the victory. The rookie left-hander made his only career start against the Braves on July 2, yielding just one run in eight innings. However, Rafael Furcal’s opposite-field homer off Armando Almanza leading off the 13th inning helped the Braves avoid a three-game sweep with a 2-1 win.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Braves - Gary Sheffield, .337 avg. and 119 RBIs; Javy Lopez, 39 HRs; Furcal, 121 runs and 25 SBs. Marlins - Luis Castillo, .324 avg. and 92 runs; Mike Lowell, 32 HRs and 105 RBIs; Juan Pierre, 60 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Marlins, 7-6.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Braves - Atlanta has been shut out only four times, tied for the fewest in the major leagues. … Atlanta is 76-6 when leading after seven innings. … CF With his two-run home run on Friday, Andruw Jones has a career-high 105 RBIs. Marlins - Florida has won 18 games in its last at-bat. … Florida recalled RHP Blaine Neal from Triple-A Albuquerque. … OF Pierre got his 185th hit on Friday, tying the team record set by 2B Castillo last year.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Braves - 41-32 on the road; Marlins - 47-26 at home.
INJURIES: Braves - OF Damon Hollins (thumb), 15-day DL; RHP Paul Byrd (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Kevin Gryboski (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Darren Holmes (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP John Smoltz (elbow), 15-day DL. Marlins - 3B Lowell (hand), 15-day DL; LHP Armando Almanza (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Toby Borland (appendicitis), 60-day DL; RHP A.J. Burnett (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Tim Spooneybarger (elbow), 60-day DL.