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Marlins land the Big One

Jim Leyland had just finished watching his Florida Marlins win the NL pennant when he issued a warning.

"I hope nobody cheapens this," he said Tuesday night, "because we beat the Atlanta Braves eight times during the regular season, and we beat them fair and square this time."This much is sure: No one will say anything is cheap about the Marlins.

Boosted by a spending spree of nearly $100 million in the offseason, the 5-year-old Marlins became the youngest expansion team to reach the World Series, defeating the Braves 7-4 to win the NL Championship Series 4-2.

Not even in existence when Atlanta began its record run of six straight postseason appearances in 1991, the wild-card Marlins won the clincher behind Kevin Brown's complete game and Bobby Bon- illa's three RBIs.

"They talk about the money we spent, that we bought a championship," said Brown, who threw 140 pitches in his first appearance since missing a start with a viral infection. "The money is not what won this series. The heart, the determination, the pursuit of the right goal got us there."

Brown, backed by a four-run first inning against Tom Glavine, won for the second time in the series. He retired 14 straight batters in the late innings and, after the Braves scored once in the ninth, got Chipper Jones on a grounder with two on to end it.

Now, it's back to Pro Player Stadium in Miami for the World Series, with Game 1 on Saturday night against either Cleveland or Baltimore. The baseball season, which traditionally starts in the warm climate of Florida in the spring, will see its first Fall Classic.

For the Braves, it was yet another disappointing end. The two-time NL champions had been to four of the past five World Series, but their win in 1995 remains their only championship.

"We've had a great year," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "These things are crapshoots. You hope you get hot."

For Leyland, it will mark his first trip to the World Series in a pro career spanning 34 seasons. His first year as manager of the Marlins has been been a rousing success, and this left him in line to be this October's version of Joe Torre.

Leyland's teams in Pittsburgh lost Game 7 of the NLCS to the Braves in 1991 and 1992, but there was no need to worry this time because of Bonilla's hitting and Brown's second win of the series.

"I felt all along we were going to win this series," Leyland said. "This isn't about me. I'm just glad I got the opportunity to come here."

The Marlins' win came five years ago to the day that the Braves rallied with three runs in the ninth inning to stun Leyland and his Pirates on Francisco Cabrera's single in Game 7.

Florida became the first wild-card team to make the World Series and surpassed the eight years the expansion New York Mets needed to get there in 1969.

Livan Hernandez became the first rookie to win the MVP award in any league championship series. He struck out an NLCS record 15 in Florida's 2-1 win in Game 5, and also won Game 3 in relief.

The Marlins overcame Alex Fernandez's torn rotator cuff and Brown's illness to take the pennant. Florida proved its 8-4 record against Atlanta this season was no fluke, winning despite hitting just .199 in the series.

The Marlins, coming off a first-round sweep of San Francisco, are 7-2 in the postseason. Florida has improved its record in each of its five years but never finished over .500 until owner Wayne Huizenga went on a spending spree.

"This is for you, South Florida," said Huizenga, who announced earlier in the season the team was for sale. "This is for all of Florida. Enjoy the moment."

Atlanta led the majors with 101 victories and won the NL East by nine games over Florida. But again, it came up short.

"The best team did not win and I'll never change my mind on that," Braves center fielder Kenny Lofton said.

Bonilla, signed to a $23.3 million, four-year contract last November, hit a two-run single that keyed the first-inning burst. He had an RBI single in a three-run sixth that made it 7-3.