<
>

Mets drop Marlins in ninth, dampen Florida's playoff hopes

NEW YORK (AP) -- After Florida's slender wild-card hopes were
jolted Wednesday night when the New York Mets scored in the bottom
of the ninth to beat the Marlins 5-4, outfielder Jeff Conine
considered the condition of his team.

The Marlins have lost six of seven games, and with Houston and
Philadelphia both winning Wednesday night, Florida fell four games
behind the Astros and two behind the Phillies in the National
League wild-card race with 10 games to play.

"We're basically down to our last gasp," Conine said.

And it may have to come without slugger Miguel Cabrera, who was
forced to leave the game in the first inning after fouling a ball
off his left knee.

Cabrera, the league's third-leading hitter at .321, completed
the at-bat by striking out, but left the game with a contusion to
his knee. That left the Marlins with three regulars out of the
lineup as second baseman Luis Castillo (hamstring) and shortstop
Alex Gonzalez (elbow) are also sidelined.

Cabrera was limping in the clubhouse and said he did not know if
he could play Thursday against New York in what amounts to a
must-win game for the Marlins.

"You see what we're putting out there," manager Jack McKeon
said, referring to the makeshift lineup because of the injuries.
"Give them credit. They're scraping and scraping. We were just one
hit away, which has basically been the story of our season, one hit
away from breaking some games open."

Still, he remained hopeful.

"We're still breathing," McKeon said. "We've got to get some
production. We've got to win them all."

Roberto Hernandez (7-6) dodged a bases-loaded jam in the top of
the ninth when Mike Lowell, who had homered and singled, grounded
out, ending the inning.

The Mets then pushed across the winning run against reliever
Paul Quantrill (2-2) when Jose Reyes singled and reached second on
an error by center fielder Juan Pierre and Miguel Cairo followed
with a single to center.

"I saw him kick the ball when I got to first base," Reyes
said. "When I saw that, I'm going, no doubt about that. Put myself
in scoring position. I run hard out of the box every time. You
never know what might happen with the ball."

That is manager Willie Randolph's style.

"It sets the tone when you run hard out of the box," Randolph
said. "We stressed that from Day One in spring training. That was
a perfect example of why we do what Jose did. We want that
reputation."

Florida took a 4-3 lead on RBI singles by pinch-hitters Lenny
Harris and Josh Willingham in a bizarre eighth inning that was
delayed 12 minutes by a light failure at Shea Stadium.

Four banks at the far end of the right-and left-field stands,
consisting of between 25 and 30 lights each, went out with Carlos
Delgado batting. When play resumed, Delgado was struck out by
reliever Tim Hamulack.

"It's a big-league stadium," McKeon said. "Give us big-league
lights. Everybody in the top deck had cigarette lighters."

Mets closer Braden Looper then got his eighth blown save of the
season when he walked Paul Lo Duca and surrendered hits to Lowell
and Harris, the all-time leader in pinch hits with 209 in 17 major
league seasons.

Shingo Takatsu relieved Looper and Willingham singled home the
go-ahead run.

The Mets came right back in the bottom of the inning as Carlos
Beltran led off with a walk and Cliff Floyd singled against
reliever Ron Villone. Antonio Alfonseca relieved and struck out
David Wright but Mike Piazza followed with a single, tying the game
at 4.

Lowell tied it at 2 in the fourth with his eighth homer. He had
been slated to make his first career start at second base but never
got there, moved to his familiar spot at third base when Cabrera
was forced to leave the game.

Cabrera's early departure came back to haunt the Marlins in the
seventh. Hits by Pierre and Conine put runners at first and third
with two outs. Cabrera's No. 3 spot in the batting order was due up
but rookie callup Joe Dillon, who replaced him, flied to right.

Game notes
Former New York State Athletic commissioner and light
heavyweight champion Jose Torres was a press box visitor. ...
Batting against an overshifted infield in the third, Delgado tapped
a ball down the third-base line and beat it out, but he took a wide
turn and was thrown out trying to get back to first base.