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REDS FEED OFF RETURN OF SANDERS

Reggie Sanders has given the Cincinnati Reds a reason for hope.

Sanders returned from a two-month stay on the disabled list Tuesday and reminded the Reds of what they can be when there is a power-hitter in the lineup. He hit two homers and drove in three runs, setting up a 7-6 victory over the Florida Marlins.

The Reds had slid out of contention in the National League Central and were facing their fifth consecutive loss Tuesday night when Sanders homered in consecutive at-bats, wiping out a three-run deficit.

How badly did Cincinnati need the lift?

"Real bad," manager Ray Knight said. "As bad as we ever needed a win. There wasn't a lot of life in the first half of the game. That was a real big turnaround, especially after being down 3-0.

"Maybe we'll play really well against these first-division clubs. There's no reason we can't, but we have to score runs."

The Marlins have been saying the same thing and trying to do something about it. They got Darren Daulton from Philadelphia in a trade on Monday, hoping to add some punch to an offense that is near the bottom of the league in homers and scoring.

Daulton joined the team Tuesday, pinch hit and grounded out in the ninth. But the rest of the lineup did just fine, hitting three homers and keeping things tense until Jeff Shaw got the final out for his 21st save.

"We hit the ball and we lost. It's meaningless," said Bobby Bonilla, who led off the ninth with his ninth homer to cut it to 7-6. "I'd rather do what we did in the first half, come up with another 50 wins and not hit."

Marlins first baseman Jeff Conine -- the subject of trade rumors since the arrival of Daulton -- had a home run and single. Reports in Florida say Conine may be headed to the Kansas City Royals for infielder Jeff King.

Maddux toys with Cubs

CHICAGO -- Greg Maddux didn't stick around after winning his first Cy Young Award five years ago. He bolted the Chicago Cubs, leaving the friendly confines of Wrigley Field for even more success in Atlanta.

Now a four-time Cy Young winner, he is still haunting his former team. Every time Maddux pitches against the Cubs and every time he beats them, it makes them realize, in a painful way, what might have been had he stayed.

"He's a brilliant, brilliant pitcher. If my life depended on one game, I'd want him to throw it," Chicago's Mark Grace said of his good friend and former teammate.

"I want to cry my head off every time I see him on the rubber for the Atlanta Braves. Greg should be with us."

Maddux got another victory over the Cubs on Tuesday -- he's 6-0 against them with a 1.43 ERA -- and this one didn't take long.

He beat them 4-1 with a 78-pitch effort in two hours and seven minutes during the opener of a doubleheader, becoming the NL's first 14-game winner (14-3).

Maddux threw 63 of his 78 pitches for strikes. His pitch total, according to Stats Inc., was the lowest in a major-league complete game since Aug. 29, 1990, when Bob Tewksbury threw 76 for St. Louis against Cincinnati.

"I hadn't heard that one," said Maddux, who threw just 86 pitches in beating the New York Yankees earlier this season.

The Cubs came back to win the nightcap, 5-4, when the Braves uncharacteristically made back-to-back errors -- by Jeff Blauser and Chipper Jones -- to allow the go-ahead run to score in the eighth inning.

Mets come undone in L.A.

LOS ANGELES -- Mark Clark unraveled during a four-run sixth inning that doomed the New York Mets to an 8-3 loss against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. The defeat ended the Mets' five-game winning streak and provided an unsettling beginning to an 11-game, 13-day odyssey also known as their longest trip of the season.

The Mets also missed a chance to go ahead of the Marlins in the wild-card race.

"If the season ended tomorrow, that would not be a good thing for us," Valentine said of the lost opportunity. "But the season doesn't end tomorrow."

Butch Huskey, Carlos Baerga and Edgardo Alfonzo each hit solo home runs off Dodgers starter Tom Candiotti.

But Clark (7-7) allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits and a walk in 5 innings. He fell to 2-5 in his last seven decisions. Raul Mondesi and Tom Prince homered off Clark. Pinch-hitter Billy Ashley added a solo home run off reliever Joe Crawford in the eighth.

Candiotti (6-3) earned his second victory of the season against the Mets. He allowed three earned runs on five hits and two walks in seven innings.

The Mets, who opened the season going 3-6 on the West Coast, had won five straight, and the Dodgers had won 13 of their previous 18.

Mets catcher Todd Hundley and left fielder Bernard Gilkey, two of the team's top three RBI men, were given the night off by Valentine. Hundley is 6 for 32 lifetime against Candiotti and Gilkey is 5 for 34.

Around the horn

Vinny Castilla's second homer of the game, a two-run, two-out shot in the 12th, delivered the Rockies to an 11-9 victory over the Expos. The Rockies had 11 runs and 19 hits while winning for just the third time in 19 games in July. Castilla had the first five-hit game of his career, going 5 for 7 with four RBIs, including his 26th and 27th homers. . . . Jeff Kent put San Francisco ahead in the seventh with his second two-run homer of the game, and J.T. Snow added a three-run shot later in the inning as the Giants put away the Phillies, 8-5. . . . Greg Vaughn, who homered in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter, rapped a bases-loaded infield single in the ninth inning as the Padres edged the Pirates, 3-2. . . . Mike Hampton broke a tie with a two-run single in a four-run fifth as the Astros stopped the Cardinals, 4-2.

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