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Ramirez hits two homers before leaving game with shoulder strain

MIAMI -- Cecil Cooper and the Houston Astros are getting increasingly frustrated as they slip further behind in the standings.

The surging Florida Marlins are keeping close tabs on two division rivals.

Hanley Ramirez homered twice before departing with an injured shoulder, Jorge Cantu hit a grand slam and the Marlins beat the slumping Astros 14-2 on Wednesday night.

Hunter Pence homered twice for the Astros, who have lost four straight and fell four games back of NL wild card-leading New York.

"It's definitely slipping away," Houston first baseman Lance Berkman said. "Until we're mathematically eliminated, we have to go out and compete."

The strain showed in Houston's clubhouse. Cooper's postgame interview with reporters ended abruptly when the manager banged his hand down on a desk and told the media to get out of his office. He later apologized.

Alfredo Amezaga went 3-for-4 with four RBIs for Florida, which has won seven straight to tie its longest winning streak of the season. The third-place Marlins trail NL East-leading Philadelphia by 5 1/2 games and are five back of the Mets for the wild card.

Florida plays Houston in the series finale Thursday before opening a weekend set against the Phillies. They end the season with a three-game series at New York.

"We've got to play the Houston Astros and win this game," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You can't worry about the others. We'll see them soon enough."

Ricky Nolasco (15-7) allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings to win his fourth straight decision.

"Everything's clicking for us right now," Nolasco said. "It starts with the starting pitching, go out there and get our offense in the dugout as quick as possible. At any given time, we can do what we did tonight and put up 14 runs."

Florida scored four in the first and led 6-1 after three innings. Ramirez led off the first with his 31st homer, Mike Jacobs hit a two-run single and Amezaga singled in Jacobs to put the Astros in an early hole.

"Those first-inning leads are nice," catcher John Baker said. "We've got that kind of lineup that can be explosive when guys are on. I think that if Hanley and I can get on base, these guys back behind us, when they get hot, they're going to knock us in a lot."

Ramirez went deep again in the second and left with a strained left shoulder after striking out in the fourth. A team spokesman said he was day to day, and Ramirez was hopeful about playing Thursday.

"Everybody's a little banged up this time of year," Gonzalez said. "But right now there's nothing serious. If we've got to give him a day, we'll give him a day."

Cantu hit his 28th homer in the eighth, and Cameron Maybin also drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk.

"In any game that you set out to win, pitching sets the tone," Cooper said. "Obviously, those guys are pretty hot over there swinging the bats, but we didn't execute one pitch all night. You look up on the board and they put up 18 stinkin' base hits. We did not execute. That's what it came down to. And we're not swinging the bats -- it's a double-edged sword."

Brandon Backe (9-13), who missed his last start due to elbow soreness, lasted just 1 2/3 innings for Houston. He gave up five runs and six hits in the shortest start of his career.

"I didn't necessarily feel rusty but I didn't have it tonight," Backe said. "I figured I could try and get through five or six innings and keep us in the ballgame and be all right."

Pence homered off Nolasco in the second and fourth. Houston's other hits off Nolasco were singles.

Houston had won six in a row and 14 of 15 before Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast on Saturday. Officials decided to relocate a pair of home games against Chicago to Milwaukee after the storm damaged the Houston area, and the Astros have been stuck in a slump ever since.

"It's not an excuse it's just reality. We're not leaning on this while we're losing games and while we're playing bad -- none of us in here are doing that," said Backe, a native of Galveston, Texas. "That said, you have to understand where we're coming from. We've had a lot of things thrown at us in a very short period of time."

Game notes
Maybin entered in the fifth inning, making his debut with the Marlins. The outfielder was acquired in the offseason deal that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit. ... Florida reliever Jesus Delgado pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his major league debut. ... Rookie Edwin Maysonet got his first major league hit with a single to left in the seventh inning for the Astros.