Crunch Time

Marlins pressured to perform in the season's second half

FRI 7/29 At the beginning of this baseball season, the Marlins were predicted to take the top spot in the NL East. It was supposed to be as easy as stealing candy from a baby. But at presstime, the Fish were tied for fourth place -- a.k.a. last. To make the playoffs, they need to get to first in their division or else clinch the wild card by surpassing five other National League teams.

So, post-All-Star game, the head office stops being polite and starts being real. Team owner Jeffrey Loria's skin turns green, and he starts looking like a cross between George Steinbrenner and the Grinch. Heads -- sometimes very big heads -- start to roll. Pitcher Al Leiter gets sent off to the Evil Pinstriped Empire (the Yanks). Rumors suggest that pitcher A.J. Burnett and third-baseman Mike Lowell need to start packing their bags. Even -- gasp! -- 74-year-old manager Jack McKeon, who guided the Fish to a World Series, may face the ax.

For hope, we turn to Josh Beckett, who should be off the disabled list, and new pitcher Jason Vargas, pulled up from the minors after just half a season there. Maybe the Marlins -- whoever might be on the roster this weekend -- can do some damage to the first-place Washington Nationals Friday through Sunday at Dolphins Stadium (2267 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami). Tickets cost $6 to $195. Visit www.floridamarlins.com. -- Deirdra Funcheon

Run Through the Night

A new nighttime race

SAT 7/30 If the 100-degree heat has prompted you to neglect your running shoes in favor of, say, strawberry daiquiris and swimming pools, well, we wouldn't blame you. But we would recommend you get off your lounge chair and join in the first Dreher Park Dash, a 5K run through the newly-renovated Dreher Park (1301 Summit Blvd., West Palm Beach). The very smart organizers have decided to start the race at 7 p.m. (registration begins at 5:30) and have lined up music and sand volleyball games to cap it off. Every runner gets barbecue and a T-shirt, and prizes go to the top three finishers in each age group, from 14 and under to 80-plus. The entry fee is $18, $5 for kids. Call 561-838-9424, or visit www.runpalmbeach.com. -- Deirdra Funcheon

 
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