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ATL@FLA: Gonzalez rips a three-run homer to left

MIAMI -- Over the past couple of weeks, the Braves have erased the offensive concerns that followed them through the early portion of the season. Now they can only hope concerns surrounding Derek Lowe also start to disappear now that the end of the season is drawing near.

Backed by a four-run second inning and Alex Gonzalez's latest homer off Brad Hand, Lowe overcame some early-inning struggles and found a groove that helped the Braves open a three-game series with an 8-5 win over the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on Monday night.

With the victory, the Braves lead the National League Wild Card race by 4 1/2 games over the Cardinals and D-backs.

"I'll take it," Lowe said. "It was a game where the runs definitely helped." Lowe entered this start having gone 3-6 with a 6.54 ERA in his previous 10 starts. With this victory, the veteran hurler gained confidence and the hope that he can turn things around in surprising fashion like he did last year, when he went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts.

"There have been times where I have been trying to pitch a good game and trying to get the results you want to have," Lowe said. "That's why those runs were so important to me, because I didn't have to worry about giving up runs. I could just go out there and pitch. Any times you get runs, you get confidence."

Lowe benefited from an offense that has continued to reap the resurgence of former Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, who extended his Major League-best hitting streak to 29 games with an infield single to begin the fifth.

After Chipper Jones followed with a single to center, Gonzalez once again frustrated Hand with a three-run homer, which sailed over the left-center-field wall. When Florida's rookie left-hander made his Major League debut June 7, Atlanta claimed a 1-0 win, and the only run he surrendered came via Gonzalez's fourth-inning homer.

"I was just trying to get a ground-ball double play right there," Hand said. "The changeup is usually a good pitch against him. I left a 2-2 changeup up. If it's down, maybe he rolls it over for a ground ball. It was a little up. About thigh-high, and he hit it out."

While Uggla and Freddie Freeman have received most of the recent attention courtesy of their long hitting streaks, Gonzalez has also aided the offense with his own resurgence. The veteran shortstop has batted .296 (21-for-71) over his past 17 games and has homered in each of the past two games.

"For me, that's just a bonus because we've seen him playing defense every single night and we know what he can do," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

It didn't take Atlanta long to solve Hand as Jose Constanza fueled the four-run second with the first of his two singles. With runners at second and third and two outs, Michael Bourn started his own multihit game with an infield single -- the first of what proved to be three straight two-out hits.

After Bourn scored David Ross with a single, Martin Prado then bounced a ground-rule double over the center-field wall. The final two runs of the inning came courtesy of a single by Freeman, who enjoyed a multihit game of his own, one day after seeing his 20-game hitting streak snapped.

Freeman and Fredi Gonzalez were not around for the entirety of this game. Home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ejected both at different points for arguing balls and strikes.

When it took Lowe 61 pitches to complete the first three innings, it appeared he also might have to make a quick exit. The Marlins loaded the bases against him twice in the first three innings and only produced two runs.

Gaby Sanchez grounded into a double play to end the first without Lowe incurring any damage. The two runs the Marlins tallied in the third came courtesy of a bases-loaded walk to Mike Stanton and a Sanchez groundout.

"The call of the night was clearly the sinker in to Gaby Sanchez in the first inning," Lowe said. "To be able to get a big double play there gives you confidence, especially the way I've been pitching. I've never been a here-we-go-again kind of guy. But if you give up early runs there, who knows what could happen."

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