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Nitkowski Beans 3; Marlins Stun Astros


C.J. Nitkowski pressed a hand against his forehead and cursed, visibly shaken by the video replay as he watched it over and over.
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  • The screen in the clubhouse showed Nitkowski hitting Craig Counsell on the right jaw with a fastball in the eighth inning of the Florida Marlins' 11-3 victory over the Houston Astros.

    It was the third consecutive batter Nitkowski had hit in a steady rain Monday night, but the Houston left-hander declined to use the weather as an excuse.

    "I was trying to bust him in," Nitkowski said. "Unfortunately I got it up and he was leaning out, and it was too late. I feel terrible. It wasn't intentional. I hope he's all right. I never want to hurt anybody."

    Counsell remained on his feet but immediately left the game and was taken to a hospital. He suffered cuts on the inside and outside of the jaw and had loose teeth. X-ray results will be available Tuesday.

    Nitowski was taken out of the game after hitting Counsell. He's the third pitcher in the major leagues since 1900 to hit three consecutive batters.

    Struggling rookie Andy Larkin pitched 6 2/3 strong innings and Gregg Zaun matched a career high with four RBI to lead the Marlins. But most of the conversation in both clubhouses afterward was about Nitkowski, Counsell and the weather.

    Rain fell for the final five innings, and the crowd of 14,484 dwindled to perhaps a thousand by the end. But neither manager criticized the umpires for deciding to play in the rain.

    "The umpires did great job of keeping the game going," Florida's Jim Leyland said.

    Houston's Larry Dierker said the conditions were playable. But he added, "The cumulative affect was pretty bad toward the end. It's always dangerous when the field gets bad, and it's compounded by being warm, and with the pitchers sweating a lot, they couldn't grip the ball."

    Umpire crew chief Ed Montague said he decided to keep playing because the forecast called for continued rain.

    "It started about the fifth inning, and we got a report that it would not stop," he said. "The Astros are in a pennant race, and you've got to give them every chance you can to get in a full game in a pennant race. If we had stopped the game, we weren't coming back on the field, as far as the forecast went."

    Regarding Nitkowski, Montague said, "I think he was just wild."

    Larkin (3-6) allowed five hits and three runs, lowering his ERA from 7.97 to 7.58. He raised his batting average from .083 to .160 with singles in his first two at-bats.

    Marlins hustle produced two runs. Edgar Renteria scored from first when his stolen base triggered two Houston errors, and Counsell scored from first on a single by Zaun.

    Derek Bell and Carl Everett hit solo homers against Larkin, who had lost his past four decisions.

    Moises Alou went 0-for-4 in his first game at Pro Player Stadium since being traded by the Marlins in December.

    The result ended a three-game winning streak for the Astros and a three-game losing streak for Florida. The Marlins had lost 17 of their past 20 games.

    Florida took a 2-0 lead in the first against Sean Bergman (10-6). Todd Dunwoody led off with a triple and came home on a single by Renteria, who then scored from first on a stolen base. Catcher Brad Ausmus made a bad throw to second, and when shortstop Ricky Gutierrez retrieved the ball, he threw wildly trying to get Renteria at third, allowing the unearned run to score.

    Houston tied the game in the fourth. Bell led off with his 16th homer and Everett hit his 12th with two out.

    Florida regained the lead for good with two runs in the fourth. Cliff Floyd singled and took third on Derrek Lee's double, and Ryan Jackson and Kevin Orie followed with RBI groundouts to make the score 4-2.

    Zaun added a two-run single in the sixth, with Counsell scoring from first when Bell casually fielded the ball near the right-field line and threw to second.

    Zaun singled home two runs in Florida's five-run eighth. Dunwoody added an RBI single, and Renteria drove in the final run with a groundout.

    Craig Biggio's two-out single drove home Houston's final run in the seventh.

    Bergman allowed seven hits and four runs, three earned, in 4 2/3 innings.

    Notes

  • The othepitchers to hit three consecutive batters since 1900 were Dock Ellis for Pittsburgh in 1974 and Wilbur Wood for the Chicago White Sox in 1977.
  • Randy Johnson will make his second start for the Astros when they return home Friday to face Philadelphia.
  • Bell is hitting .354 (34-for-96) against left-handers.
  • Florida rookie reliever Matt Mantei singled for his first major-league hit in the eighth.
  • Larkin became the Marlins' first winning pitcher other than Livan Hernandez since July 18.
  • Larkin is one of 24 rookies to play for the Marlins this year.
  • A disputed call cost the Marlins at least two runs in the fifth. First base umpire Ed Montague ruled that Renteria's apparent two-run double was foul, but replays showed the ball landed on the right-field line, kicking up a cloud of chalk.

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