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Marlins drop 8 of last 12

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Suddenly, Kris Benson is looking like Jason
Schmidt in 2001. Just when he is finally starting to pitch well,
the Pittsburgh Pirates may trade him.

Benson, apparently winding down his Pirates career, limited
Florida to two runs over 8 1-3 innings in yet another strong start
to lead Pittsburgh past the Marlins 6-2 Friday night.

Benson (7-7), being eyed by a half-dozen contenders as the July
31 deadline for trades without waivers approaches, was trying for
his first complete game since he blanked the Braves on June 15,
2000. He came out after allowing three hits to the four batters he
faced in the ninth, including Jeff Conine's RBI single.

"I hope he's around a little longer," teammate Jason Bay said
of Benson, who gave up eight hits, struck out four and walked one.
"The way he's pitching, he would be good for any ballclub."

Benson has been a major disappointment since being the No. 1
pick in the 1996 amateur draft, going 42-48 during an
injury-interrupted career. But since getting into a groove early
last month, the right-hander has allowed two or fewer earned runs
in all but one of six starts.

The only other time Benson has pitched so consistently was late
in 2002, when he went 5-0 over his final seven starts after
returning from reconstructive elbow surgery. Last year, his first
start after the All-Star break was his last one as he missed the
rest of the season with a sore shoulder.

"I've finally been able to put a string together," Benson
said. "My shoulder and elbow injuries are behind me and my
confidence is up. I'm building on every start."

Benson hasn't yielded a homer in 60 innings over his last eight
starts while pitching into at least the seventh inning in each of
his last nine starts.

Just like Schmidt in 2001, Benson's contract is up when the
season ends and the Pirates can't afford to give him the deal he
would command on the open market. If they don't trade him, they
risk seeing him depart without getting anything in return.

"He's certainly turned the corner," manager Lloyd McClendon
said. "He's pitching like we always thought he could ... and he's
not gone yet."

Jose Mesa bailed out Benson by getting two outs for his 23rd
save in 24 chances, stranding two runners.

Bay and Rob Mackowiak hit solo homers for the Pirates, whose
eight-game home winning streak is their longest since they also won
eight straight Aug. 18-Sept. 5, 1992, during their last
division-winning season.

Florida, losing its eighth in 12 games, had a chance to get to
Benson early when Juan Pierre singled and Luis Castillo walked to
start the game. But Benson got Miguel Cabrera swinging, then picked
Pierre off second base -- only his second successful pickoff in 52
attempts this season -- before getting Mike Lowell on a fly ball.

"We've got to get that one hit there, you know?" manager Jack
McKeon said.

The Marlins finally scored in the sixth when Pierre tripled and
came home on Castillo's sacrifice fly, their first run in 24
innings in Pittsburgh. They have dropped four straight there the
last two seasons.

A.J. Burnett (1-4) was 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA in his last six
starts only to struggle again on the road, where he is 0-4 with an
8.06 ERA in six starts this season and 0-5 in seven starts the last
two seasons. He allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings.

Bay started the Pirates' second with his 13th homer in only 149
at-bats, hitting a 99 mph Burnett fastball into the left-field
seats. Bay also singled during a pivotal four-run fourth inning
that included Jason Kendall's two-run single, Jose Castillo's
double and Randall Simon's RBI single.

"My location was flat-out pitiful," Burnett said. "I had it
for the first two innings, then after that I don't think I threw a
fastball where I wanted the rest of the game."

Mackowiak's homer in the seventh off reliever Josias Manzanillo
was only his second since he homered in each game of a May 28
doubleheader against the Cubs.

Game notes
The Pirates have won 13 of 17 despite dropping three of
four against Montreal last weekend. ... Burnett pitched eight
shutout innings in his only previous start against Pittsburgh, in
2001. ... 2B Jose Castillo made one of the Pirates' best defensive
plays of the season, going far to his left in the fifth inning to
catch Mike Redmond's grounder before throwing him out while on his
stomach in short right field. ... Pirates All-Star SS Jack Wilson
is 0-for-14.