ATLANTA (AP)—The Florida Marlins got what they wanted in Atlanta. Now they head home for the rest of the regular season, confident they’ll win the NL wild card.
Derrek Lee homered and had four RBIs as Florida beat the Braves 6-3 Monday night to extend its wild-card lead to one game over Philadelphia.
The Marlins host the Phillies for three games beginning Tuesday night, a series that could determine if Florida makes the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1997.
“This is the position we wanted to be in,” said Juan Pierre, who sparked Florida with a pair of bunt singles. “We’re one game up and we control our own destiny.”
The Marlins split a four-game series with Atlanta, which already clinched the NL East. After the Phillies, they’ll close the season at home with three games against the last-place New York Mets.
“That was the goal coming into this series,” said Florida starter Mark Redman, who made only one major mistake in seven innings. “We did a good job. They’re a tough team. We were expecting the Phillies to sweep (a weekend series with Cincinnati), but they lost two out of three. So we’re one game up going into this series. That’s real good.”
Florida is two games ahead of Houston and the Chicago Cubs, co-leaders in the NL Central. Los Angeles, which played later Monday at San Diego, was three games back.
“It’s not just us and the Phillies,” Redman said. “Chicago is right there. Houston is right there. One of them can sneak up on the wild card. We can’t lay low. We’d like to take two of three from Philadelphia.”
The finale in Atlanta was played on a damp, dreary night before an announced crowd of 17,345—the smallest in Turner Field history. The actual turnout appeared to be less than 10,000 for a game that was delayed 53 minutes in the first inning by rain.
The game began in a mist that quickly grew in intensity. Florida loaded the bases against Mike Hampton (14-8) without getting a ball out of the infield. Luis Castillo led off with a walk before Pierre and Ivan Rodriguez reached on consecutive bunt singles.
Lee lined a run-scoring single to left, giving the Marlins a 1-0 lead and leaving the bases loaded. But with a 1-0 count on Miguel Cabrera, umpires called for the tarp.
When play resumed, Cabrera took another ball, then lined a two-run single to right.
Florida doubled its lead in the second. Castillo and Pierre singled—the latter on a perfectly placed bunt down the third-base line—before Lee came up with two outs.
Hampton fell behind 2-0 and left a fastball over the plate. Lee launched his 31st homer deep into the left-field seats, giving the Marlins a 6-0 lead.
“I think the weather kind of messed up his timing,” he said.
Lee also set a career high with 88 RBIs, surpassing his previous mark of 86 set in 2002.
“It was a great night to bunt,” Hampton said. “They’ve definitely got some speed at the top of the order. … Anything can happen on a wet surface like that.”
The big lead made things easy for Redman (14-9), who retired the first 12 Atlanta hitters before Chipper Jones led off the fifth with a single.
“When you get that kind of run support, you can go right at ‘em,” said Redman, who improved to 3-0 against the Braves this season. “I was throwing a sinking fastball. It seemed like the slower I threw it, the easier it was to get outs.”
The Braves finally scored in the sixth when Gary Sheffield hit a three-run homer, his 38th of the season. He has 127 RBIs, tying the Atlanta record set by Hank Aaron in 1966—the team’s first season after moving from Milwaukee.
“I don’t want that record,” Sheffield said. “That’s the guy I grew up idolizing. My grandfather taught me about him.”
Hampton is 9-3 since the All-Star break, though he hasn’t had much success against the Marlins. In four starts this season, he went 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA.
“I kind of look at it like I need a kick in the butt, wake up a little bit,” Hampton said. “I got a little content with the way things were going, so I got a wake-up call.”
Ugueth Urbina worked the ninth for his third save.
John Smoltz pitched a scoreless ninth for the Braves, another good sign as he attempts to get ready for the postseason. He got all three outs on grounders. … Atlanta RHP Kevin Gryboski also threw a scoreless inning, his first appearance since Aug. 27. He was sidelined with a shoulder problem. … Hampton gave up 11 hits in five innings. The Marlins didn’t have a hit after he left. … The previous low at Turner Field was 17,543 for a Sept. 8 gameagainst Philadelphia.