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Get out to the ballpark South Florida!


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If this isn't big enough to get you to Pro Player, what is?



ATLANTA -- OK, South Florida. Show your soul. Now's the time, like it never has been before.


Not in baseball. Not in the regular season. Not in anyone's lifetime, least of all the Marlins' lifetime.


Your team returns home tonight, a 6-3 winner over the Braves on Monday, with a one-game lead on the Phillies in the NL wild-card chase. So who awaits them? The Phillies, for three games almost as weighty as that time the World Series came to Pro Player Stadium.


I'm not real big on telling fans how to spend their money. Not when I walk into games for free, eat barrels of complimentary popcorn and generally could help myself to anything that's not nailed down, up to but not including Ugueth Urbina's clavicle.


But if this isn't the time, then when? If a game like tonight's, with Dontrelle Willis -- the biggest draw in this franchise's 11 seasons -- facing Phillies ace Kevin Millwood, doesn't put your rear end in Pro Player, what will? The Marlins giving away Jeff Conine dolls? The Marlins giving away Jeff Conine himself?


Forget Wayne Huizenga and the some-disassembly-required Marlins in 1997. Forget John Henry. Forget the stadium issue that hangs over this team like the blade of a guillotine. Forget even, at least for now, all those negative stories you've heard and read about Jeffrey Loria, some of which came from right here.


Forget it all for the sake of a season you might never forget. The Marlins weren't supposed to advance to the playoffs, a fact thought to be as bulletproof as the fact the Angels couldn't win the last World Series.


''The best part is there's no pressure here,'' reliever Chad Fox said. 'This is fun. I think every team should look at how we're doing this. I've never heard, `We gotta win tonight' from these guys. That's not how we do it.''


So, now this, the biggest regular-season series for the Marlins since their first one, back in 1993, when the only real significance was the franchise's very birth. By winning two of the next three, the Marlins would add mathematics to their lineup, and this time of year Barry Bonds might be the only better thing to have on your side than the numbers.


Two of three pushes the Phillies to the edge, where they likely would find the Cubs and the Dodgers, if the Dodgers aren't already goners. Two of three puts the Marlins within tasting distance of the cherry atop this most unlikely of summers.


Remember David Samson's March prediction of 91 victories? Remember the avalanche of ridicule that buried the team's president afterward? Two of three puts the Marlins a season-ending sweep of the Mets from 91 wins.


As someone who once suggested that Samson was, well, a wiener, I'd like to admit today that the Marlins are two of three away from turning this Oscar Madison into Oscar Mayer.


''All this worrying about how the Phillies and Cubs and the Dodgers are doing doesn't matter,'' Fox said. ``We have a little breathing room. If we keep winning, who gives a crap what everyone else does? They'll still be chasing us. Let them worry.''


How unbelievably well is this season working out? Think two words: Mike Hampton. You might recall the Marlins were part of an offseason deal that resulted in Hampton going from the Rockies to the Braves, with the Marlins agreeing to pay $9 million of the pitcher's salary.


You might also recall the team was chided for the trade. Well, the Marlins continue to get their money's worth. The left-hander now has started four times against the Marlins this season, and they are 4-0 in those games, winning by a combined score of 36-12.


Hampton was pummeled by a pillow-fight offense Monday. He walked Luis Castillo to start the game, then gave up Juan Pierre and Ivan Rodriguez singles, neither of which traveled more than 20 feet. Both players bunted their way on base. All three Marlins eventually scored.


In the second, Pierre bunted for a single again and scored as part of Derrek Lee's three-run homer, proving the versatile Marlins even can produce with a full swing.


Now it's the Phillies again, at home this time, where the Marlins have won 22 of their past 29, the sort of pace that led someone to invent the phrase home-field advantage.


''They're going to come in wanting the same thing we want,'' manager Jack McKeon said. ``So it's going to be a shootout.''


Here we go, South Florida. A three-game series. A six-game homestand. A playoff spot to be won.


Show your soul. Better yet, show your face.


The media always insists it's not their place to get fans out to the ballpark. Apparently they're okay with it, when the team's playing well... Anyway, decent article. There's been plenty of room on the bandwagon all season.


Anyway, what's the early word on tonight's attendance? Any predictions?

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