Cubs 5, Marlins 1, 1st game; Marlins 5, Cubs 2, 2nd game

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MIAMI (AP)—The Chicago Cubs’ 24-hour visit to Miami included a brief stay atop the NL wild-card standings. Then they lost their lead because they couldn’t beat David Weathers.

The journeyman right-hander, making his first start in six years, limited Chicago to two hits and one run in five innings, and the Florida Marlins won 5-2 for a split of their doubleheader Monday.

Mark Prior allowed just five hits in 7 2-3 innings and outpitched Carl Pavano in the opener to help the Cubs win 5-1.

With the victory in Game 1, Chicago climbed one percentage point ahead of San Francisco in the wild-card race. But the Cubs ended the day where they started: a half-game behind the idle Giants.

“We’ve been knocking on first place for a while,” Chicago manager Dusty Baker said. “We’ll keep knocking until we kick the door in.”

The Marlins, who had hoped to gain ground with a sweep, instead remained 4 1/2 games behind San Francisco. The defending World Series champions have no games left against the four teams ahead of them.

“Time’s running out on us,” manager Jack McKeon said. “Maybe it’s not going to happen. But as long as we’ve got the least bit of life, we’ll give it a run.”

Weathers (7-7) showed the Marlins that anything is possible. Pitching for his third team this season, he came into the game 0-4 lifetime against the Cubs with an 11.44 ERA. But he earned a standing ovation from fans behind the Florida dugout when he walked off the mound after the fifth with a 5-1 lead.

“It felt good to go out there and do something to help, instead of sitting around collecting a free check,” Weathers said.

Rudy Seanez pitched out of a jam in the sixth, and Guillermo Mota and Armando Benitez completed the five-hitter. Benitez worked the ninth for his 44th save, a career high and the most in the NL.

Florida right fielder Juan Encarnacion helped out his closer in the ninth with a leaping catch to rob pinch-hitter Todd Walker of a two-run homer.

“I hate to say you’d almost rather strike out,” Walker said. “But that was disappointing.”

Damion Easley had a three-run homer and an RBI double off Matt Clement (9-13). Michael Barrett hit his 16th home run for the Cubs, who were eliminated Saturday from the NL Central race—even though St. Louis manager Tony La Russa refused to permit a celebration or acknowledge his team clinched the division.

St. Louis has 97 victories, and the best Chicago can do is 96.

The Cubs and Marlins would have preferred Monday off as originally scheduled. For the Cubs, the split came during a stretch of four road games in three days in three cities. Miami was added to the itinerary to make up two games postponed during Labor Day weekend because of Hurricane Frances.

The doubleheader was the third for the Marlins in 11 days, and the grind has depleted their pitching while all but dashing their hopes of returning to the playoffs.

“The last three weeks have been tough,” McKeon said. “To go through what we did, no other club in this league has done it. And yet to be still battling and fighting and thinking we’ve got a chance, it’s a credit to the guys.”

Announced attendance was 37,412, but it was a late-arriving crowd. Game 1 began in front of about 5,000 spectators, many of them blue-clad fans who did plenty of cheering as Chicago took a 4-1 lead with three runs in the second against Pavano (17-7).

Corey Patterson’s two-run double put the Cubs ahead to stay, and Prior (6-4) beat Florida for the second time in 10 days. He threw a season-high 129 pitches on an 84-degree afternoon.

“I’m finally hitting my stride and pitching up to my capability,” said Prior, who missed the first two months of the season with a sore right Achilles’ tendon. “It was fun to go out there and get it done.”

Prior gave up a run in the first but didn’t allow a runner to reach third after that. He struck out nine and walked one.

“A very impressive performance,” Baker said. “That’s what you like to see this time of year in the stretch run.”

Baker held Sammy Sosa and two other regulars out of the lineup in the opener, but the Cubs still got 16 hits. Pavano gave up five runs and 12 hits in six innings and lost his second start in a row.

“I guess he’s entitled to a couple of mediocre ones,” McKeon said.

In the nightcap, Easley’s first-inning homer caromed off the screen attached to the left-field foul pole.

“You don’t like to make it that close, but you take it,” he said.

Florida made it 5-1 in the third on RBI doubles from Miguel Cabrera and Easley, ending Clement’s afternoon after just 2 1-3 innings. The right-hander is 2-9 in his past 17 starts.

Notes

Cubs SS Nomar Garciaparra, sidelined since Sept. 11 with a strained right groin, might return to the lineup sometime during the series in Pittsburgh beginning Tuesday, Baker said. … McKeon turned down LHP Dontrelle Willis’ offer to start Monday on three days’ rest. Willis is scheduled to start Tuesday against Philadelphia. … Cubs RF Ben Grieve was hit by a pitch for the first time this season, then hit again the next time up against Pavano. … Pavano fell to 6-6 at home. He’s 11-1 on the road.

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