Braves 1, Marlins 0

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ATLANTA (AP)—Russ Ortiz gave the Atlanta Braves another reason to celebrate.

One day after the Braves clinched their 12th straight division title on an off day, Ortiz won his 20th game in style, pitching a three-hitter and driving in the only run as Atlanta defeated the Florida Marlins 1-0 Friday night.

The Braves were already planning a postgame celebration in honor of their 1-day-old NL East championship, but Ortiz’s performance made the champagne taste even sweeter.

“That has to be the best gave I’ve ever thrown overall,” Ortiz said, savoring the first 20-win season of his career.

How’s this for an overall performance? Ortiz provided all the offense with a two-out, RBI single in the second. He also made the game’s signature defensive play, snaring a liner up the middle by Juan Encarnacion.

“What better way to win your 20th than to drive in the winning run yourself?” Florida manager Jack McKeon said. “That may have been the best-pitched game against us this year.”

Ortiz pumped his fist and pointed toward catcher Javy Lopez after the final out. Outside the dugout, he stopped to do an interview on live television, only to be snatched away by hitting coach Terry Pendleton so he could take part in the spraying of the champagne.

Once inside the clubhouse, Ortiz was the center of attention.

“Way to go, buddy,” John Smoltz said. Robert Fick gave the pitcher a hug as he headed toward his locker.

“I started thinking during the game, ‘Hey, this could turn out to be a real good celebration,”’ Ortiz admitted. “I was thinking two or three innings ahead of time, which I shouldn’t have done. I’m glad it still worked out.”

The Marlins dropped a half-game behind Philadelphia in the wild-card race. The Phillies took over the top spot with a 7-3 victory over Cincinnati.

Ortiz (20-7) pitched his second career shutout, the other coming two years ago with San Francisco, and gave Atlanta its first 20-game winner since Tom Glavine in 2000.

“Russ has been great,” Chipper Jones said. “What an awesome way to celebrate your 20th.”

The right-hander bounced back from his shortest start of the season, having lasted just three innings in an 8-3 loss at Florida last Saturday. The Marlins were one of only two teams to hand Ortiz a pair of losses this season, having scored 16 runs in 20 innings against the Braves ace.

This time, Florida was the opponent for Ortiz’s first complete game of the season. He allowed three singles, kept the Marlins from getting anyone past first base and had much better control than usual.

Ortiz walked only one—Derrek Lee with two outs in the seventh—and set a season high with eight strikeouts.

“I was getting ahead,” said Ortiz, who leads the NL with 98 walks. “That was huge. That’s why guys like Greg Maddux are so successful. They get ahead and make guys swing at their pitches.”

As he approached 20 wins, Ortiz began to struggle. In his previous four starts, he surrendered 19 earned runs in 19 innings.

“After the last four starts, I just wanted to pitch a good ballgame,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about numbers so much.”

Lopez led off the second with a double off the left-field wall, but the next two hitters failed to bring him home. Ortiz, batting .246 for the season, lined an RBI single to left—then made the lead stand up.

The first two hits against Ortiz were quickly wiped out. Lee led off the second with a single but was thrown out attempting to steal. Alex Gonzalez started the sixth with another single, but Ortiz made a nice play on Josh Beckett’s bunt to get the runner at second, then started a double play that ended the inning.

Luis Castillo had an infield single with two outs in the ninth, but Ivan Rodriguez grounded out to end the game. Ortiz threw 129 pitches—87 for strikes.

Beckett (8-8) was the hard-luck loser for the Marlins. He surrendered just six hits in seven innings and struck out nine. He retired the last six hitters he faced before Ugueth Urbina took over in the eighth.

“I made one mistake,” Beckett said. “It’s tough. I gave up one big hitand it cost me the game.”

Notes

Marlins CF Juan Pierre, one away from the team record for steals, didn’t get a chance for his 62nd. He went 0-for-4. … Ortiz came within one out of a complete game on April 27. He went 8 2-3 innings in a 7-1 victory over Milwaukee. … The Braves struck out 11 times. … In the last four series between the teams, Florida has won three and split the other. They have three more games to turn around this series, their final meeting of the year with Atlanta. … The Braves have four complete games this season. Maddux, MikeHampton and Horacio Ramirez have the others.

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