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Braves sweep, step closer to playoffs

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Braves sweep, step closer to playoffs

Atlanta Braves' Brooks Conrad, right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning against the Florida Marlins Wednesday in Atlanta.

    ATLANTA — Bobby Cox wants to make sure the attention being paid to his final regular-season games as Atlanta's manager takes a back seat to the Braves' pursuit of their first playoff berth since 2005.
    Cox deflected questions about his retirement after the Braves beat the Florida Marlins 5-1 on Wednesday to complete a three-game sweep behind Derek Lowe's fifth win of the month and Brooks Conrad's three-run homer.
    Atlanta moved two games ahead of San Diego in the NL wild-card race. The Padres hosted Chicago on Wednesday night.
    The 69-year-old Cox announced his retirement plans one year ago. The Braves will honor Cox on Saturday. His focus is on the wild-card race.
    "These games are so important I'm going to put that on the back burner," Cox said when asked about Saturday's ceremony.
    Atlanta reached 90 wins for the 15th time in 25 years under Cox. The Braves won 14 straight division titles under Cox but have missed out on the playoffs for four straight seasons.
    Atlanta closes at home against NL East champion Philadelphia with a three-game series starting Friday night.
    "We win two more games, I don't care what the Padres do," Braves closer Billy Wagner said. "We win two more games, we're going to the playoffs, and that's what we've fought for."
    Added Lowe: "You figured it would come down to this last series and we did what we had to do."
    The Braves' focus on the playoffs was obvious to the Marlins.
    "Those guys are hungry," said Florida's Chad Tracy, who had three hits. "They can taste it."
    Pitching on three days' rest, Lowe (16-12) gave up one run and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings and struck out nine. He is 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA this month with 29 strikeouts and three walks in 30 2-3 innings. His 16 wins matched Tim Hudson for the team high.
    "His last four starts or so have been dominating," Cox said, adding the short rest "didn't affect him at all. He was fired up."
    Peter Moylan, Mike Dunn, Craig Kimbrel and Wagner combined for 3 1-3 scoreless innings.
    "These games are playoff-atmosphere type games," Wagner said. "You know it. You feel it in your body. That anxiety, that nervousness, that excitement.
    "You know what's on the line. Now the big thing is controlling it and getting through it and doing it."
    Conrad, a 30-year-old rookie, homered in the third off Andrew Miller (1-5). Conrad made his second straight start after Martin Prado sustained a torn oblique muscle and a bruised hip Monday. Prado, an All-Star with a .307 batting average, will miss the playoffs if the Braves advance.
    Conrad, usually a pinch-hitter and defensive substitute, has eight homers — all before Wednesday were from the seventh inning on.
    "The guys have been giving me a hard time about that," Conrad said.
    David Ross, starting because catcher Brian McCann was rested, had three doubles and an RBI.
    Miller gave up four runs, four hits and four walks in three innings as the Marlins lost their fourth straight.
    "Too many walks," Miller said. "I threw far too many balls today. I have to find that consistency."
    Miller has allowed four or more runs in five straight starts, going 0-5 with a 12.74 ERA in that span.
    "We had to go to the bullpen (after) the third," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "That's never good."
    Atlanta, bouncing back from a 4-5 trip, went ahead 4-0 in the third when Matt Diaz and Derrek Lee walked, Ross doubled to left and Conrad homered into the left-field seats.
    Mike Stanton had an RBI single in the sixth.
    Pinch-hitter Freddie Freeman doubled in the ninth and scored on Steven Cishek's bases-loaded walk to Eric Hinske.
NOTES: Braves RHP Jair Jurrjens, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 14 because of an injured right knee, threw in the bullpen before the game. Jurrjens said the discomfort was "not as bad" and he may be available to pitch behind rookie RHP Brandon Beachy if needed on Friday. Jurrjens hopes to be available to start if the Braves make the playoffs.

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