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Marlins win, clinch wild card berth

MIAMI — With rainy weather, apathetic fans, unsettled ownership and losing records, the Florida Marlins have provided comic relief in recent seasons.

Look who's laughing now.

The surprising Marlins beat the New York Mets 4-3 Friday night to clinch their first playoff berth since winning the 1997 World Series. They'll face the NL West champion Giants in a best-of-5 series beginning Tuesday in San Francisco.

The Marlins trailed Philadelphia in the wild-card race last Saturday, but pulled away with five consecutive wins. At 90-70, they're 20 games above .500 for the first time since '97.

The victory put 72-year-old manager Jack McKeon in the postseason for the first time. Florida is 74-48 (.607) since he took over May 11.

With the win, Florida eliminated the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, still vying for the NL Central title, from wild-card contention.

Leadoff batter Juan Pierre, a catalyst all season, filled that role again in the clinching victory. He stole two bases to set a team record with 64, singled three times to reach a career high with 203 hits and played a part in Florida's first three runs.

Carl Pavano (12-13), the No. 5 starter on a strong pitching staff, limited New York to six hits and three runs in 7 1-3 innings. Ugueth Urbina got his sixth save.

The Marlins' rapidly expanding bandwagon attracted 33,215 fans, the largest crowd of the week and the fourth-largest of the season in Miami.

Aaron Heilman (2-7) took the loss.

BRAVES 6, PHILLIES 0: At Philadelphia, Horacio Ramirez pitched six sharp innings, and Atlanta moved closer to clinching home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs Friday with a 6-0 victory over Philadelphia in the final night game at Veterans Stadium.

The Braves entered the night with a one-game lead over San Francisco; the Giants played Los Angeles later Friday night.

The Phillies, atop the NL wild-card standings a week ago, lost their sixth straight game. They were eliminated from the playoff race Thursday night after being swept by Florida.

EXPOS 5, REDS 1: At Cincinnati, Tomo Ohka pitched a five-hitter and Brad Wilkerson homered as Montreal beat Cincinnati. The Expos' 82nd victory guaranteed them a second straight winning season under manager Frank Robinson. Montreal had not posted consecutive years over .500 since 1992-94.

BREWERS 12, ASTROS 5: At Houston, Richie Sexson homered twice and doubled as the Milwaukee Brewers beat Houston, dropping the Astros a half-game behind idle Chicago in the NL Central. The Pittsburgh-Cubs game at Wrigley Field was rained out earlier in the day. A doubleheader was scheduled for Saturday. Sexson hit an RBI double during a six-run second inning. He hit a solo homer off Rick White in the fifth and a two-run shot in the seventh off Kirk Bullinger. Sexson has 45 homers this season, tying his own franchise record set in 2001. Gorman Thomas also hit 45 homers in 1979.