Marlins hold 90-minute meeting after lost weekend

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins' latest team meeting may have
set franchise records for length and intrigue.

When the Marlins open a nine-game trip Tuesday at Washington,
they'll test anew the tenuous theory that clubhouse speeches help.
Manager Joe Girardi kept the doors closed for nearly 90 minutes
after Los Angeles completed a sweep of Florida on Sunday.

Girardi said he spent most of the time talking to his young
team. He termed the meeting a "learning session" rather than a
scolding or pep talk, and players described his tone as positive.

But there was speculation about a possible rift between Girardi
and owner Jeffrey Loria, who was in the clubhouse much of the time
it was closed.

"We talked about things," Girardi said. "He's an owner who
really wants to win."

Through a spokesman, Loria declined to comment Monday.

Alas for the Marlins, the series sweep by Los Angeles likely
doomed their slim prospects in the NL wild-card race. After
trailing by only four games as recently as Friday, they began this
week six games back, with eight teams between them and wild-card
leader Cincinnati.

Not only did the Marlins lose three in a row to streaking Los
Angeles, but they looked bad doing it. Worst in the majors in
fielding, they committed five errors that led to four unearned
runs. They went 3-for-25 with runners in scoring position and were
outscored 23-7.

The sweep was the first the Marlins have endured since May
19-21, shortly before beginning a midseason surge that has made
them one of baseball's most surprising teams.

"The way we played the last three days was awful," closer Joe
Borowski said.

Still, even at nine games under .500, Florida has exceeded all
expectations. Baseball's youngest, lowest-paid team was widely
projected to lose more than 100 games, and when the Marlins started
11-31, there was even talk that they might rival the storied 1962
New York Mets for ineptitude.

Instead, from May 23 through Thursday the Marlins went 40-26,
the best record in the National League during that span.

But young teams are prone to late-season fades.

"A lot of these guys haven't played through September,"
catcher Matt Treanor said. "Usually in the middle of August, guys
are starting to think about offseason planning. But we've got a
ways to go, and we're in the hunt.

"Having everybody count us out early in the season, it would be
great for us to finish near the top of our division and carry that
over to next year."

That was the thrust of Girardi's comments at the team meeting:
Shrug off the frustration of the weekend, and gear up to defy
expectations for another eight weeks.

"It's the dog days of August," he said. "Obviously we had a
setback, but Tuesday's a new day. I think guys are excited about
our road trip and what's in front of us."

The speech to the team was Girardi's first since July 30, after
Florida lost a doubleheader in Philadelphia.

"The next day we scored 15 runs," he said. "I hope the same
effect happens."