Marlins 8, Expos 6

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CHICAGO (AP)—Maybe the Florida Marlins should make Chicago their permanent home.

Bringing an appropriate end to their odd stay, Jeff Conine drove in the go-ahead run with a walk and the Marlins beat the Montreal Expos 8-6 Tuesday for a sweep of their miniseries at U.S. Cellular Field.

“I think we’re going to look at the whole month of September and realize what we’ve accomplished,” said Conine, who also hit one of Florida’s three homers during a six-run third inning.

“A lot of weird stuff has happened.”

You think?

With Hurricane Ivan bearing down on Florida, Major League Baseball decided last week to move the first two games of the Marlins’ five-game series with the Expos from Miami to Chicago. The Marlins were already in Chicago for a weekend series against the Cubs, and the White Sox, the normal residents at U.S. Cellular Field, were out of town.

The Windy City is a long way from South Florida, but the Marlins took to their new home like, well, a fish in water. They won both games, making them winners of seven of their last 10 in Chicago, and discovered they have quite the fan base here.

Despite short notice and afternoon games on a weekday, a spirited crowd of 5,457 came out Tuesday, paying $15—$5 went to hurricane relief—for the rare opportunity to see a National League game in an American League park. There were 4,003 at Monday’s game.

Though the crowd again seemed to be split between Marlins and Expos fans, the Florida groupies were much more vocal Tuesday. McKeon looked like a politician as he signed autographs before the game, and fans gave him a standing ovation when he argued with umpires over a no-call on fan interference.

Fans gave the Marlins another standing ovation after the game.

“I hate to leave here,” McKeon said. “These fans were great. Did you see how they were after the game?”

The Marlins, who remained two games behind San Francisco in the NL wild-card race, made sure the fans got their money’s worth, too.

Florida took a 6-1 lead after Conine, Alex Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera all homered off of Expos left-hander Scott Downs. Cabrera’s two-run homer gave him 100 RBIs for the season, making him only the sixth active player to do that before his 22nd birthday.

But the Marlins let the Expos back into the game, getting some help from an overeager fan in the sixth inning.

With two outs in the sixth, Brian Schneider hit a grounder down the right-field line and a fan reached onto the field and appeared to pick the ball up. Schneider was credited with a double, but pinch-runner Ryan Church scored from first on the play, cutting Florida’s lead to 6-3.

McKeon protested, but the call stood. The Cubs fans in the audience cheered, maybe thinking it was some kind of cosmic karma reversal for that fan who deflected a foul ball in Game 6 of last year’s NLCS.

The following inning, Tony Batista hit a three-run homer off Rudy Seanez (3-1) to tie the game.

“He threw me a fastball and I was looking for a fastball,” Batista said.

The Marlins have a knack for working their way out of jams, though, and they loaded the bases against Luis Ayala (5-11) in the seventh inning. After fouling off Ayala’s first pitch, Conine took four straight balls to walk in the go-ahead run.

Juan Encarnacion followed with a sac fly for an insurance run.

“You can’t defend walks,” Expos manager Frank Robinson said. “We battled back in the ball game and tied the score, but we don’t get a chance to enjoy it long. We go right out and give up two runs.

“That’s not the way you’re going to win ballgames, especially on the road.”

The Expos had one last chance, loading the bases against Guillermo Mota with two outs in the ninth. But Church flied out to right, preserving Florida’s victory and giving Mota his fourth save.

“Never easy, is it?” McKeon said.

At least the Marlins can look forward to going home now. They left Miami last Thursday not sure how long they’d be gone or even where they were headed. They flew home after Tuesday’s game and will play the Expos in a doubleheader Wednesday. They’ll finish the series with a game Thursday night.

Robinson said he would have preferred staying in Chicago for the entire series, considering that there’s rain in Miami’s forecast.

“This is the more sure thing right here,” Robinson said before the game.

But the Marlins were eager to get home.

“It seems like we’ve been in Chicago for about 10 days,” Conine said, “not five.”

Notes

Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. also had a 100-RBI season before their 22nd birthday. … White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had someone leave McKeon five cigars on Tuesday. Guillen was the Marlins’ third-base coach last season, and McKeon used his office. Asked what he was leaving Guillen, McKeon said, “A lot of ashes. Cigar smoke.” … Montreal’s Terrmel Sledge expects to play Wednesday after dislocating the pinky finger on his left hand in the sixth inning.

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