What, us worry about a strike date?

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

MIAMI -- As the grounds crew grooms the infield shortly before the game on a balmy weeknight, the ballpark is so empty the rakes smoothing the dirt can be heard from the upper deck.

The ambiance at Florida Marlins games tends toward the funereal: eerie silence interrupted by occasional organ music. Empty seats outnumber fans six to one as the Marlins stumble toward another losing season, which would be the ninth in their 10-year history.

The small crowds are nothing new, but last week the Marlins slipped to last in the major leagues in home attendance, behind even Montreal. While new owner Jeffrey Loria repeatedly has said he expects the Marlins to remain in South Florida for years, sagging ticket sales put them at risk of joining the Expos as contraction targets.

And now baseball is counting down to a strike that would further damage the Florida franchise.

Or would it? Marlins first baseman Derrek Lee chuckled at the question.

"Honestly, I can't see this market getting much worse," he said. "On the other hand, maybe it would just completely kill it.

"This is not a very good market as it is. A strike couldn't do anything to help it, that's for sure."

Attendance has never been worse. The Marlins drew their second-, third- and fourth-smallest crowds last week against Colorado, averaging 4,852 for three games.

Around theNL

Brewers 2, Phillies 1

The Brewers' Jamey Wright pitched into the seventh inning to beat the Phillies 2-1 for the first time in more than five years.

Rockies 8, Expos 6

Denny Neagle had his fourth straight solid outing since rejoining the rotation, and Jay Payton hit a three-run homer to lead the Rockies.

Around the AL

Yankees 7, Angels 5

Bernie Williams singled three times, giving him 10 straight multihit games, and Jason Giambi homered and drove in three runs.

Athletics 6, Indians 3

Jermaine Dye hit a three-run homer and Eric Chavez had a two-run shot as streaking Oakland won its seventh straight game.

Tigers 6, Mariners 3

Damion Easley and Bobby Higginson hit back-to-back homers in the sixth inning, and Detroit beat Seattle for the second straight night.

Orioles 7, Devil Rays 4

Gary Matthews Jr. hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, capping a rally against rookie Lee Gardner.

Twins 5, White Sox 0

Kyle Lohse pitched a four-hitter and Jacque Jones hit his second leadoff homer in as many days.

Royals 6, Blue Jays 3

Raul Ibanez hit a three-run homer in the 12th inning, then Kansas City held to beat Toronto.

Rangers 3, Boston 2

Ivan Rodriguez homered to tie it in the ninth inning and Todd Hollandsworth hit a solo shot in the 10th as the Texas Rangers won their fifth straight.

-- From wire reports

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