Marlins 4, Astros 2

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HOUSTON (AP)—An unusual call against Houston pitcher Wandy Rodriguez helped boost the Florida Marlins’ lead in the NL wild-card race.

Juan Pierre walked in the seventh inning when umpires said Rodriguez touched his mouth with his hand while on the mound, and Paul Lo Duca followed with a tiebreaking, two-run homer that sent Florida on to a 4-2 victory over the Astros on Tuesday night.

“It was a bad call. It was a wrong call,” Astros manager Phil Garner said.

Josh Beckett (14-8) struck out eight over 7 1-3 innings against his hometown team, and Carlos Delgado homered for the second straight game, becoming just the ninth player to hit 30 homers in nine straight seasons.

Florida, which was outhit 9-6, opened a one-game lead over Philadelphia in the wild-card standings.

Mike Lamb and Adam Everett homered for the Astros, who lost for the fourth time in five games and dropped 1 1/2 games behind the Marlins.

With the score tied 2-2 and one out in the seventh, Juan Pierre worked the count to 3-2 against Rodriguez (9-8). Before the next pitch, third base umpire Bruce Dreckman cited Rodriguez for making contact between his hand and mouth or lips, a violation of baseball’s rules, and called ball four.

Garner and Rodriguez argued in vain that the pitcher had merely touched his nose.

“He didn’t go to his mouth on the mound,” Garner said. “He was simply sweating profusely on his face and was wiping it away.”

Chad Qualls relieved, and Lo Duca homered to left on a 3-2 pitch, just his fifth home run in 407 at-bats this season.

“What happened in the sixth inning I’m not sure,” Rodriguez said. “If I am going to touch anywhere, I’m going to step off of the mound. It hurts. I wanted to win and we didn’t.

“He told me that I ran my finger over my mouth. That is what he said I was doing. I never touched my mouth while I was on the mound. I touched my face because I was sweating.”

Pierre wasn’t sure what happened.

“I was surprised because you never see that call,” he said. “It definitely proved to be big. It got them out of their rhythm. But when you’re going good like we are, those things happen to you. You’re going to get little things like that go your way.”

Lo Duca was just happy to win.

“A lot of us knew we needed to win these first two games when you’ve got (Roger) Clemens and (Andy) Pettitte going the next two games,” he said. “It was huge to win these two.”

Beckett, who went to nearby Spring High School, allowed two runs and nine hits, walking none. He was angry that Rodriguez hit Delgado in the fourth inning.

“He does that after Carlos hits a home run. I’ll just say this: You’ve got to be a little more careful in those situations,” Beckett said. “You reap what you sow.”

Beckett left in the eighth after Orlando Palmeiro’s leadoff single and Lamb’s one-out infield single.

Todd Jones came in to face Lance Berkman, who grounded his first pitch into an inning-ending 3-6-3 double play. Jones pitched a perfect ninth for his 37th save in 39 chances.

Rodriguez gave up three runs and four hits in 6 1-3 innings.

Delgado, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning Monday, homered leading off the second, and Juan Encarnacion’s RBI single in the fourth made it 2-0.

Mike Lamb homered leading off the bottom half, and Adam Everett tied it when he homered starting the fifth.

Notes

The other players with nine straight 30-homer seasons are Barry Bonds (13), Jimmie Foxx (12), Sammy Sosa (10) and Lou Gehrig, Eddie Mathews, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Schmidt and Jim Thome (nine each). … Houston OF Willy Taveras left the game with a cut on his right middle finger in the third inning. He injured it as he got his 67th infield hit and 29th bunt single, both major league highs. … The Astros’ Morgan Ensberg missed his seventh straight game with a bruised wrist. He is day to day. … The seven members of NASA’s space shuttle Discovery “Return to Flight” crew threw out ceremonial first pitches before the game.

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