BY CLARK SPENCER
WASHINGTON – The Marlins won’t have reason to drink champagne in October, not on the company dime. Their season ends Sunday. But they had cause for cheer on Wednesday, locking up a winning record – only the fifth in franchise history – with a 9-4 victory over the Washington Nationals.
It’s a far better result than the last-place finish so many predicted of the Marlins, who will instead finish square in the middle of the five-team National League East. And if they can squeeze out two more wins over their final four games, they’ll end up with the third-best record ever posted by a Marlins team.
The two that did better, the 1997 and 2003 clubs, captured World Series titles.
Nothing like that is brewing on the immediate horizon. But rookie newcomers Cameron Maybin and Gaby Sanchez turned in the kinds of performances on Wednesday that could rekindle championship thoughts in the not-too-distant future.
Maybin had another big night at the plate, going 3 for 3, and again flaunted his speed by stealing a base and chasing down a fly ball after a long run to left center. Since being called up from the minors on Sept. 16, Maybin has gone 14 for 28 with three stolen bases.
The only discouraging news for the Marlins: Maybin left the game in the sixth with a stiff left hip, which he apparently tweaked on his slide into second in the top half of the inning.
Then there was Sanchez, who could be taking over at first base in 2009 if Mike Jacobs doesn’t return.
Sanchez, who was awarded Most Valuable Player honors in the Double A Southern League, showed why on Wednesday when he produced a single and a pair of doubles. The first of those – his first big-league hit -- caromed off the wall in left and drove in a run.
Sanchez, a University of Miami product, received his first major league start as manager Fredi Gonzalez rested a few of the regulars after the team was eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday.
Gonzalez, however, said he intends to play his regulars this weekend (“for the integrity of the game,” he said) when the Marlins shoot up to Shea Stadium to take on the New York Mets, who are battling the Milwaukee Brewers for the wild card.
Last season, the Marlins knocked the Mets out of the playoff picture on the final weekend, and there’s already talk among players inside the clubhouse that they would love nothing more than to spoil the Mets’ season once again. There’s even an outside chance that pitcher Josh Johnson, who started and won Wednesday game for the Marlins, could be used in late-inning relief on Sunday if that game carries playoff significance.
If Wednesday was, in fact, Johnson’s final appearance, he ended his successful comeback campaign from Tommy John surgery on a winning note. Johnson improved to 7-1 with the six-inning effort.
He benefited from extensive run support.
Hanley Ramirez cracked his ninth, first-inning leadoff home run of the season – and 33rd overall – and the Marlins knocked Nationals starter Tim Redding out in the third with a five-run outburst.
Ramirez was one of four Marlins to have three hits, along with Maybin, Sanchez and Jeremy Hermida.
Josh Willingham also homered as the Marlins improved to 14-3 in their season series against the last-place Nationals.