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Marlins make themselves at home, PBP Article


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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- They moved the outfield fences back about 20 feet to cut down on home runs, but that couldn't stop Miguel Cabrera. He hit two.


They replaced the bouncy Astroturf with thicker FieldTurf to cut down on hits, but that didn't matter to Brad Penny. He hardly allowed opponents to make contact, allowing two hits and striking out 10.


Hiram Bithorn Stadium underwent $8 million in off-season renovations to help the Montreal Expos compete, but that didn't prevent Cabrera and Penny from sparking the Marlins to a 5-0 victory Tuesday night before 14,620.


After being picked once again in the pre-season to miss the playoffs, the defending World Series champions are off to the franchise's best start since 1997, improving to a majors-best 6-1.


"Hey, they count,'' manager Jack McKeon said about Florida's hot start coming so early in the season. "They're just as important early in the season as they are late. We don't want to be sitting around trying to make up games. Let's win them now, win them when we can.''


Perhaps no one wanted to win more this season than Penny did Tuesday. In his first start he lost to the Expos 3-2 on April 6.


"You don't want to have the only two losses on the team. I did think about that before the game: 'Damn, I better win tonight,' " said Penny, who needs one win to tie Ryan Dempster's club record of 42 career victories.


He dominated the Expos by staying in front in the count and working his curveball effectively to give the Marlins their second shutout in less than a week.


For his final out, he snagged Brian Schneider's line drive to end the eighth inning, then gently set the ball on the pitching rubber and walked off the mound.


Penny, now 11-3 in his career against the Expos, also was motivated by the impressive performances of his fellow starters, who have a combined ERA of 1.61 while allowing opponents to hit just.188.


"Let them have a little competition among themselves,'' McKeon said. "(Josh) Beckett sat alongside me; he's rooting for this guy. (Dontrelle) Willis is rooting for this guy. The end result is they pull for their buddies.''


After watching Beckett strike out 11 in Sunday's 3-1 win against the Phillies, Penny took first baseman Hee Seop Choi home to have Easter Sunday dinner with his family. Penny treated the South Korean native to deer meat that he and his father hunted in the off-season.


"We got a bunch of friends playing together,'' Penny said. "Even in the minor leagues, I've never been on a team like this. Everybody is so close.''


When spring training games started last month, McKeon had his starters pitch on four days' rest so they would be strong early in the season.


"I have seen so many clubs with guys who were not ready. They'd be ready for May 15, but I wanted them ready for April 1,'' he said. "I've said all along these guys are just starting to get to the top. They're not there yet."


Cabrera, who now leads with five home runs, said the starting pitchers have motivated him to produce at the plate. He has four home runs in his past eight at-bats.


"We need to keep this going and help the pitchers because we have a good staff,'' said Cabrera, who went 3-for-3 with three RBI. "They're doing well right now and we need to support them.''


Cabrera, who turns 21 Sunday, hit his team-leading fourth home run in the first inning, an opposite-field shot to right off Claudio Vargas. He added his fifth in the sixth inning with a rising line drive into the left-field bleachers after working the count from 0-2 to 3-2.


"He's going to be a superstar,'' Penny said. ''I'm going to be watching him on TV one day and say, 'I played with that guy.' "



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If this team can stay together somehow for the next 5-10 years, then they are going to do some very special things in that time. :thumbup



It's amazing to see how close this team has gotten and it looks like they are still doing it for the fun of the game and that is a very rare thing today.

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