MIAMI -- Juan Pierre's home run was unexpected. Jeff Conine's might have been, too.
Brad Penny pitched six shutout innings to snap a three-game losing streak and send the Braves to their sixth loss in seven games. Atlanta also has lost 10 of 14, falling six games under .500 for the first time since 1990, when it finished 65-97.
"We better start playing ball or things could get away from us," first baseman Julio Franco said. "We don't want to go down by 12 games at the All-Star break, because things could get real ugly around here. These next games are important, because we at least want to stay in the pack."
The Marlins handed the Braves their fifth consecutive series loss.
Carl Pavano overcame a rough start to beat the Braves 4-3 Tuesday, and Penny (7-5) was even better a night later.
He allowed four hits, a walk and struck out seven, winning for the first time in five starts. He lowered his ERA from 2.83 to 2.65 and improved to 7-3 against Atlanta.
"He's pitched a hell of a lot better than his 7-5 record," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "This guy is on a mission. He's going to put some big numbers up before his career is over."
The Braves managed one baserunner in each inning, but couldn't get anyone past second base.
Billy Koch, Matt Perisho and Ben Howard each pitched an inning of hitless relief to finish Florida's eighth shutout.
Penny had lost three in a row, and the Marlins had dropped four straight with him on the mound. It wasn't that he pitched poorly, giving up 13 earned runs in the four outings, but he received little run support.
"The thing I like about him is he stays under control," McKeon said. "That's a sign of maturity. He doesn't experiment out there. He goes after you. He's like Nolan Ryan: 'Here it is boys, try to hit it.' "
Penny got plenty of help Wednesday, backed by three homers.
Conine's fifth was a three-run shot in the fourth inning that gave the Marlins a 5-0 lead. It was his first since May 24 against Arizona, a span of 22 games.
Conine entered the game hitting .167 with runners in scoring position and was batting .218 overall in June. The numbers had him calling it the worst slump of his career and had others wanting the Marlins to bring up Joe Dillon from Triple-A Albuquerque to replace him.
"I don't mind the average, but when you're not driving in runs and you're a run producer, that's tough to swallow," Conine said. "I can't make up lost ground, but hopefully I can make a difference the rest of the way."
Pierre hit his second homer of the season; his other was an inside-the-parker. His shot down the right-field line landed in the first row. He pumped his fist twice rounding first and didn't stop smiling until long after he touched the plate.
"Balls don't usually come off my bat like that," said Pierre, who tied his career high for homers in a season. "I've got to enjoy that one a little bit. ... My power numbers are coming early this year."
Hee Seop Choi also homered in the second against John Thomson.
"I can't explain it," said Thomson, who has given up a team-high 12 homers. "It seems that when I make a mistake now, it goes out of the ballpark. It's not like you can get away with it and it goes for a double. Now my mistakes are winding up in the seats."
Thomson (5-6) lost his fourth straight start. He gave up five runs on five hits and a walk and struck out four.
After losing five of six to Atlanta early in the year, the Marlins have won two in a row. Florida will go for a sweep Thursday, looking for its first three-game winning streak since the end of May.
"Maybe this is the start of something good," McKeon said.
Notes Braves OF Charles Thomas made his
major league debut, pinch-hitting in the fifth and striking out. ...
Pierre's home run was Florida's 14th leadoff homer and first since Dave
Berg did it Aug. 27, 2001. ... New York Giants QB Jesse Palmer, best
known for his appearance on ABC's reality dating show The Bachelor,
threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2004, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved