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Marlins move to forefront of wild-card chase

Florida Marlin pitcher Dontrelle Willis was sharp in his seventh complete game and 21st victory.
Florida Marlin pitcher Dontrelle Willis was sharp in his seventh complete game and 21st victory.
Dave Einsel, Associated Press

Dontrelle Willis gave Florida the NL wild-card lead with an outstanding all-around effort.

The effervescent lefty homered and pitched his seventh complete game this season, earning his 21st victory in the Marlins' 8-2 win Monday night over the Houston Astros in Houston. Florida moved a half-game ahead of the Astros in the wild-card standings, taking the top spot for the first time since after games of Aug. 30.

Willis (21-8) tied St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter for the major league lead in victories and complete games by winning his sixth straight start. He connected for a two-run shot off Scott Strickland in the sixth inning, giving the Marlins a 6-1 lead. It was his third career homer and first since April 14, 2004, against Montreal in Puerto Rico.

Carlos Delgado, Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine also homered for Florida, which won for the fifth time in seven games. The Astros have lost three of four and are a half-game ahead of Philadelphia for second place in the wild-card chase.

Brandon Backe (8-8) lasted five innings and allowed four runs, three earned, and seven hits in his second game back after missing five weeks with a ribcage injury.

PHILLIES 4, BRAVES 1: At Philadelphia, Eude Brito tossed three-hit ball over six shutout innings in his third career start, keeping Philadelphia in the hunt for the NL wild card.

Pat Burrell had three hits and two RBIs, Jimmy Rollins extended his hitting streak to 18 games and three relievers allowed one run over three innings for the Phillies. Philadelphia entered 1 1/2 games behind wild card-leader Houston and one game behind Florida.

Getting the spot start because Vicente Padilla is out with a strained ribcage, Brito (1-0) gave the Phillies so much more than they could have hoped for. With a fastball in the low 90s, Brito breezed through the early innings, retiring the first 11 batters until walking Jones in the fourth. Billy Wagner worked the ninth for his 33rd save in 36 chances.

Tim Hudson (12-8) gave up four runs — three earned — and seven hits in six innings for the Braves.

REDS 5, CUBS 2: At Chicago, Javier Valentin and Wily Mo Pena homered off Greg Maddux on consecutive pitches to start the fifth inning, and Cincinnati beat Chicago behind strong pitching from Aaron Harang.

Pena added a three-run homer in the ninth off Sergio Mitre to finish with four RBIs.

Harang (10-12) became the first Reds' pitcher to win 10 games, running his record against the Cubs this season to 3-0 by allowing two runs and eight hits in 8 1/3 innings. David Weathers got two outs for his 13th save in 16 chances.

Maddux (12-12) had a 1-0 lead and had given up just three singles before Valentin and Pena connected on homers to left-center opening the fifth.

CARDINALS 4, PIRATES 3: At St. Louis, pinch-hitter John Rodriguez's ninth-inning single off Salomon Torres (4-5) helped St. Louis reduce its magic number for clinching the NL Central to four.

St. Louis was outhit 11-6 but improved to 11-3 this season against the last-place Pirates. The Cardinals have won 18 of their last 21 games overall.

Jason Isringhausen (1-1) worked a perfect ninth.

Ty Wigginton and Brad Eldred each had three hits and an RBI for the Pirates, who have lost 14 of 17. Starter Mark Redman left after five innings with a broken tip of his left index finger.