|Florida (79-72) «||4||1||1||0||0||3||0||5||x||14||18||0|
MIAMI -- Cecil Cooper and the Houston Astros are getting increasingly frustrated as they slip further behind in the standings.
The surging Florida Marlins are keeping close tabs on two division rivals.
Hunter Pence homered twice for the Astros, who have lost four straight and fell four games back of NL wild card-leading New York.
"It's definitely slipping away," Houston first baseman Lance Berkman said. "Until we're mathematically eliminated, we have to go out and compete."
The strain showed in Houston's clubhouse. Cooper's postgame interview with reporters ended abruptly when the manager banged his hand down on a desk and told the media to get out of his office. He later apologized.
Alfredo Amezaga went 3-for-4 with four RBI for Florida, which has won seven straight to tie its longest winning streak of the season. The third-place Marlins trail NL East-leading Philadelphia by 5½ games and are five back of the Mets for the wild card.
Florida plays Houston in the series finale Thursday before opening a weekend set against the Phillies. They end the season with a three-game series at New York.
"We've got to play the Houston Astros and win this game," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You can't worry about the others. We'll see them soon enough."
Ricky Nolasco (15-7) allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings to win his fourth straight decision.
"Everything's clicking for us right now," Nolasco said. "It starts with the starting pitching, go out there and get our offense in the dugout as quick as possible. At any given time, we can do what we did tonight and put up 14 runs."
Florida scored four in the first and led 6-1 after three innings. Ramirez led off the first with his 31st homer, Mike Jacobs hit a two-run single and Amezaga singled in Jacobs to put the Astros in an early hole.
"Those first-inning leads are nice," catcher John Baker said. "We've got that kind of lineup that can be explosive when guys are on. I think that if Hanley and I can get on base, these guys back behind us, when they get hot, they're going to knock us in a lot."
Ramirez went deep again in the second and left with a strained left shoulder after striking out in the fourth. A team spokesman said he was day to day, and Ramirez was hopeful about playing Thursday.
"Everybody's a little banged up this time of year," Gonzalez said. "But right now there's nothing serious. If we've got to give him a day, we'll give him a day."
Cantu hit his 28th homer in the eighth, and Cameron Maybin also drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk.
"In any game that you set out to win, pitching sets the tone," Cooper said. "Obviously, those guys are pretty hot over there swinging the bats, but we didn't execute one pitch all night. You look up on the board and they put up 18 stinkin' base hits. We did not execute. That's what it came down to. And we're not swinging the bats -- it's a double-edged sword."
Brandon Backe (9-13), who missed his last start due to elbow soreness, lasted just 1 2/3 innings for Houston. He gave up five runs and six hits in the shortest start of his career.
"I didn't necessarily feel rusty but I didn't have it tonight," Backe said. "I figured I could try and get through five or six innings and keep us in the ballgame and be all right."
Pence homered off Nolasco in the second and fourth. Houston's other hits off Nolasco were singles.
Houston had won six in a row and 14 of 15 before Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast on Saturday. Officials decided to relocate a pair of home games against Chicago to Milwaukee after the storm damaged the Houston area, and the Astros have been stuck in a slump ever since.
"It's not an excuse it's just reality. We're not leaning on this while we're losing games and while we're playing bad - none of us in here are doing that," said Backe, a native of Galveston, Texas. "That said, you have to understand where we're coming from. We've had a lot of things thrown at us in a very short period of time."
|That's a home run swing for Hanley Ramirez, the first of two before he injures his shoulder. (AP)|
|Players of the Game|
|Kazuo Matsui, 2B||3||0||1||0||0||0||0||.284|
|a- Jose Castillo, PH||1||0||0||0||0||1||1||.244|
|Dave Borkowski, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Miguel Tejada, SS||3||0||2||0||0||0||0||.284|
|b- David Newhan, PH-2B||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||.250|
|Lance Berkman, 1B||2||0||0||0||2||0||2||.321|
|Ty Wigginton, LF||4||0||0||0||0||2||3||.290|
|Geoff Blum, 3B||4||0||0||0||0||1||3||.230|
|Hunter Pence, RF||3||2||2||2||1||0||2||.270|
|Michael Bourn, CF||4||0||0||0||0||1||1||.220|
|Humberto Quintero, C||4||0||0||0||0||0||1||.217|
|Brandon Backe, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.277|
|Jack Cassel, P||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||.250|
|Tim Byrdak, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.167|
|c- Mark Saccomanno, PH||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.200|
|Fernando Nieve, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|d- Edwin Maysonet, PH-2B^SS||2||0||1||0||0||0||1||.250|
|a-struck out for Matsui in the 7th|
|b-struck out for Tejada in the 8th|
|c-lined out for Byrdak in the 5th|
|d-singled for Nieve in the 7th|
|HR - Hunter Pence 2 (24, Nolasco, Nolasco)|
|RBI - Hunter Pence 2 (77)|
|2-OUT RBI - Hunter Pence 2 (28)|
|Team LOB - 7|
|E - Miguel Tejada (11, Throwing)|
|Brandon Backe (L,9-13)||1.2||6||5||5||2||2||2||5.66|
|HBP - Willingham (by Dave Borkowski)|
|Pitches-Strikes - Brandon Backe 45-26, Jack Cassel 33-18, Tim Byrdak 13-8, Fernando Nieve 47-30, Dave Borkowski 53-33|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Jack Cassel 2-2, Dave Borkowski 1-4|
|Batters Faced - Brandon Backe 12, Jack Cassel 9, Tim Byrdak 3, Fernando Nieve 12, Dave Borkowski 13|
|Hanley Ramirez, SS||3||2||2||2||0||1||0||.298|
|Cameron Maybin, CF||2||1||1||1||1||1||0||.500|
|John Baker, C||4||1||1||0||2||1||5||.280|
|Jorge Cantu, 3B-1B||5||2||3||4||1||0||1||.277|
|Jesus Delgado, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Mike Jacobs, 1B||5||2||3||2||0||1||3||.247|
|Brett Carroll, PR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.059|
|Logan Kensing, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|a- Gaby Sanchez, PH-1B||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Dan Uggla, 2B||3||2||1||0||2||0||3||.262|
|Josh Willingham, LF||4||2||1||0||0||0||5||.254|
|Cody Ross, RF||4||1||2||1||1||0||3||.262|
|Alfredo Amezaga, CF-SS||5||0||3||4||0||0||3||.265|
|Ricky Nolasco, P||4||0||0||0||0||3||3||.133|
|Wes Helms, 3B||1||1||1||0||0||0||0||.247|
|a-grounded out for Kensing in the 8th|
|2B - Jorge Cantu (37, Backe), Alfredo Amezaga (13, Nieve)|
|HR - Hanley Ramirez 2 (32, Backe, Backe), Jorge Cantu (28, Borkowski)|
|RBI - Hanley Ramirez 2 (66), Cameron Maybin (1), Jorge Cantu 4 (90), Mike Jacobs 2 (87), Cody Ross (70), Alfredo Amezaga 4 (28)|
|2-OUT RBI - Jorge Cantu 4 (36), Alfredo Amezaga 4 (17)|
|Team LOB - 11|
|PB - John Baker (2)|
|Ricky Nolasco (W,15-7)||7||6||2||2||1||4||2||3.52|
|WP - Jesus Delgado (1)|
|Pitches-Strikes - Ricky Nolasco 95-73, Logan Kensing 19-14, Jesus Delgado 21-11|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Ricky Nolasco 6-11, Jesus Delgado 2-1|
|Batters Faced - Ricky Nolasco 28, Logan Kensing 4, Jesus Delgado 4|
|Attendance - 14124|
|Game Time - 3:10|
|Temperature - 81|
|Umpires - Home - Bill Hohn, First Base - Chad Fairchild, Second Base - Dan Iassogna, Third Base - Ron Kulpa|