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All-Stars lead way in Marlins' win

All-Stars lead way in Marlins' win

MIAMI -- True superstars may be few and far between on low-payroll teams, but the Marlins know they have two in Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson.

On Wednesday night, that duo proved it once again.

Two weeks removed from suiting up for the National League All-Star team, Ramirez and Johnson put on a two-man show at Land Shark Stadium, starring on both sides of the field en route to a 6-3 win against the Braves.

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Florida, two games back in the NL Wild Card race and six behind the first-place Phillies in the NL East, has won seven of its past eight games, with its most recent victory coming on the steady hands of its two best players.

"That's why we pay the money that we pay Hanley, and that's why JJ is going to make the money that he makes in this game," catcher John Baker said. "Because they're superstar, All-Star-quality players. Night in and night out, those are the guys we look to to lead this team."

We know two things about the Marlins' superstars: Ramirez can hit and Johnson can pitch. But in the second of a three-game series against division-rival Atlanta, they did more than that.

Johnson topped another solid outing with an impressive showing at the plate, and Ramirez complemented another multi-RBI game with some impressive glove work.

Johnson, who got the win after yet another quality start, gave his team a four-run lead in the fourth with a three-run homer to straightaway center field. The young right-hander, built like a tight end at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, took a two-out, 1-1 fastball from Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami that grooved over the plate and crushed it just left of the blue tarp over the seats.

It was the second home run in 118 career at-bats for Johnson, with both coming this season.

"I hit it good, so I thought it was going to be [gone]," said Johnson, who's been using teammate Chris Volstad's bat for most of the year. "I hit it kind of on more of a line than the other one. I thought it was gone once I hit it, but I was still running."

Said Kawakami, through his interpreter: "Giving up a homer with two outs to the pitcher isn't just disappointing, it's pathetic."

After the three-run jack, the 13,518 fans in attendance gave Johnson a standing ovation, and the Marlins' All-Star right-hander came out for the curtain call -- just like he did when he homered against the Brewers on June 4.

"I didn't even hear it in the dugout, and everyone was like, 'Get out there,' so I went out there real quick," Johnson said.

Ramirez put on quite a show, too.

The NL's leader in batting average hit his first triple of the year in the third inning, a smash into the right-center-field gap that scored the speedy Emilio Bonifacio easily from first base to get the Marlins on the board.

Then, leading off the fifth, Ramirez -- now riding a 10-game hitting streak -- took Kawakami deep to left field for his 16th home run of the year. Three batters later, Dan Uggla followed up with a homer of his own, his 18th, to give Florida a 6-1 lead.

"Good for the team," Ramirez said. "We've been doing good. We've got everything going good right now. We have to keep going. Don't stop."

Many know about Ramirez's ability to hit a baseball, but his defense has seen dramatic improvements. After committing 22, 24 and 26 errors the past three years, respectively, the Marlins' shortstop has committed just eight through 90 games this season.

On Wednesday, Ramirez made several nice plays, including a stab, turn and throw on a hard grounder by Chipper Jones in shallow center field to end the third inning.

"Something that might be overlooked is how well he's been playing defense and the decisions he's made and the choices he's made," Baker said. "My dad actually brought it up to me last night ... when you take a look at some of the plays he made last year and the things that he's done this year, he's been just outstanding on the field."

Johnson turned in his 18th quality start in 21 outings this season, giving up three runs on eight hits and a walk in six innings. It was the 18th straight time Johnson had given up three runs or fewer in a start, a streak dating back to April 18.

"The thing about Josh is when he's not exactly on like he can be, his off-days are as good as a lot of guys' 'A' game," Uggla said. "He did his thing, and the bullpen did a great job coming in and carrying it from the seventh inning on."

On Tuesday, Braves manager Bobby Cox had issues with the calling of balls and strikes, citing specifically the pitch that preceded Ross Gload's walk-off homer in the ninth, which Atlanta's skipper thought should have made the count 2-2 rather than 3-1.

With two outs and nobody on in the top of the eighth, home-plate umpire Bill Hohn -- who worked first base on Tuesday -- moved toward Cox in the visitors' dugout after they seemingly exchanged words. After some back-and-forth jarring, Cox was ejected for a Major League-leading 147th time in his career.

After the game, catcher Brian McCann, who was also tossed, said he took particular exception to a 1-0 pitch at the start of the inning he said was a foot off the plate.

"When I went out there, I asked [Hohn], 'Can you at least tell me that you missed it?'" McCann recalled. "Then he got an attitude with me right away, and that was it."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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