Conine and the Marlins could clinch the second playoff berth in franchise history by the end of the night as they complete their series with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Conine is the only current Florida player who was on the 1997 team that won the wild card and went on to win the World Series. He rejoined the team late last month when the Marlins obtained him in a deal with Baltimore, and he seems to be enjoying the pennant race more this time.
“These games mean a lot more than they did in 1997,” said Conine, the star of Florida’s victories Tuesday and Wednesday against Philadelphia. “We took care of business pretty early in ’97. This means so much more right now.”
The Marlins reacquired the former fan favorite known as “Mr. Marlin” to plug a hole in the lineup created when All-Star third baseman Mike Lowell broke his hand. And while Conine has struggled to get his average above .200 since his return, he has contributed his share of big plays.
He homered, doubled and made a sensational catch in left field in a pivotal win at Philadelphia last week. His three-run homer sparked a comeback victory Tuesday, and he hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday to earn the first curtain call of his career.
“We know he’s a much better hitter than what he did the first couple of weeks here,” manager Jack McKeon said. “We thought he might be an experienced guy who would give us that extra push over the top.”
The victories Tuesday and Wednesday gave the Marlins a three-game lead over Philadelphia and Houston, and a 3 1/2 -game lead over Los Angeles. A Florida win, coupled with a Houston loss to Milwaukee and a Los Angeles loss to San Diego on Thursday, would give the Marlins a postseason berth.
After Philadelphia came up just short Wednesday despite a five-run rally in the eighth inning of its 6-5 loss, Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal all but conceded the race to the Marlins.
“If we win every game from here on out, we probably still won’t get in,” he said. “It’s theirs to hold on to.”
STANDINGS: Phillies - 3rd place, 13 1/2 GB, NL East. Marlins - 2nd place, 10 1/2 GB, NL East.
PHILLIES PROBABLE STARTER: Randy Wolf (16-9, 4.13 ERA). The left-hander won his last start, a 7-3 decision over the Reds on Friday night. He gave up two runs and four hits in six innings for his fourth straight win. He worked around four walks and struck out eight. Wolf is 2-8 with a 5.32 ERA in 11 starts against Florida.
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTER: Brad Penny (13-10, 4.11 ERA). Penny pitched well in his last start, but didn’t figure in Florida’s 6-5 win at Atlanta on Saturday. He allowed one run and five hits over seven innings. He has made 11 career starts against the Phillies, going 4-3 with a 3.94 ERA.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Phillies - Lieberthal, .317 avg.; Jim Thome, 44 HRs, 127 RBIs and 107 runs; Bobby Abreu, 22 SBs. Marlins - Luis Castillo, .316 avg. and 98 runs, Lowell, 32 HRs and 105 RBIs; Juan Pierre, 62 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Marlins, 12-6.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Phillies - The Phillies are 29-10 when 1B Thome homers. … LHP Wolf’s 16 wins are the most by a Philadelphia pitcher since Curt Schilling won 17 in 1997. … OF Abreu is 9-for-28 (.321) in his career against RHP Penny, with two home runs and three RBIs. Marlins - 2B Castillo is hitting .419 (13-for-31) in his career against LHP Wolf. … RHP Penny is 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA 13 home starts this season. … The Marlins have committed two errors in their past 16 games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Phillies - 37-43 on the road; Marlins - 50-27 at home.
INJURIES: Phillies - RHP David Coggin (shoulder), 60-day DL. Marlins - 3B Lowell (thumb), 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.