Marlins 5, Astros 2

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MIAMI (AP)—The Florida Marlins drew another big crowd Saturday night, and Mike Lowell didn’t make them wait long for something to cheer about.

Lowell hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and Carl Pavano held Houston without a hit until the sixth to help Florida beat the Astros 5-2.

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

“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.”

The crowd roared in the ninth as Braden Looper pitched a 1-2-3 inning to complete a three-hitter. The Marlins improved to 7-1 on their homestand with one game left.

Lowell reached the 30-homer milestone for the first time.

“Does it bring special privileges now?” the All-Star third baseman said jokingly. “I’m in uncharted waters this whole year. It feels great.”

Teammate Alex Gonzalez hit his 13th homer in the second. Ivan Rodriguez had three hits, drove in a run, stole a base and scored once.

The Astros lost to Florida for the first time in five meetings this season, reducing their lead in the NL Central to one game over St. Louis. Houston has 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.”

Pavano (8-10) retired only one batter after giving up his first hit to Craig Biggio, but he won for the second time in six starts and matched a career high with his eighth victory. He allowed three hits and two runs in 5 1-3 innings.

Three Marlins relievers combined to extend the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 16 1-3 innings over the past six games. Ugueth Urbina pitched around an error in the eighth, and Looper followed for his 22nd save in 26 chances.

The pitchers benefited from three defensive gems. Luis Castillo and Gonzalez turned a nifty double play, Juan Pierre made a diving catch in center field, and first baseman Derrek Lee stretched to rob Gregg Zaun of a hit in the ninth.

Jeriome Robertson (10-5) allowed six hits and five runs in four-plus innings. The rookie, who has lost consecutive decisions for the first time this season, said he struggled adjusting to the mound.

“I left some balls up in the zone, and they took advantage,” he said.

The Marlins improved to 19-9 against left-handed starters, with five consecutive victories. They went to work quickly against Robertson.

With one out in the first, Castillo walked, Rodriguez singled off the glove of third baseman Morgan Ensberg, and Lowell homered on a 2-0 pitch.

“It’s huge for the team momentum-wise, and for me, to go out there and work with a lead,” Pavano said.

Rodriguez singled home a run in the fifth for a 5-0 lead.

Pavano threw 75 pitches before the Astros got a hit—a single by Biggio leading off the sixth. Ensberg also singled, and Bagwell hit a sacrifice fly, with Pierre robbing him of a hit.

Shortstop Gonzalez looked at second base after fielding a routine grounder and then held the ball, allowing Richard Hidalgo to reach on a fielder’s choice as a run scored. Michael Tejera escape further damage by retiring the next two batters.

“Our pitching has kept them down,” manager Jack McKeon said. “If we getany kind of hitting, we can win.”

Notes

The Marlins have drawn 827,630 fans in 57 home games, compared with 813,111 in 81 games last year. … Lowell became the fourth Florida player to hit 30 home runs, joining Gary Sheffield, Cliff Floyd and Preston Wilson. He’s batting .450 (9-for-20) with runners in scoring position since the All-Star break. … Houston RHP Dan Miceli, whose complaints while with the Marlins contributed to the firing of manager John Boles in 2001, drew jeers when he entered in the fifth. … The teams began the night with the same record (59-50), but Houston leads the NL Central while Florida is third in the NLEast. … Bagwell’s average against Pavano fell to .182 (2-for-11).

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