LAND SHARK STADIUM
FINAL
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
ASTROS
0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1  
MARLINS
2 0 0 0 1 6 0 0 x  
R H E
2 7 0
9 11 0
WINNING PITCHER
West
#45 LHP
4-4, 4.57 ERA
6.0 Innings
1 ER
LOSING PITCHER
Hampton M. Hampton
#11 LHP
7-10, 5.30 ERA
5.0 Innings
3 ER

MIAMI(AP) The Florida Marlins are slugging their way into the playoff race.

Jorge Cantu and Ronny Paulino homered, and the Marlins continued their potent pace at the plate in a 9-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

Sean West (4-4) allowed one run and five hits in six innings, and relievers Brian Sanches and Chris Leroux combined to give the Marlins their sixth win in the last seven games.

Florida remains 4 1/2 games behind first-place Philadelphia in the NL East, and three behind Colorado in the wild card. The Rockies begin a three-game series at Florida on Friday.

''We're within a few games of Philly, and every game is important come this point in the season,'' West said. ''I was talking to our starters, we've got a great group of guys. I think we can carry the team all the way. And our hitting is bar none.''

It has been lately.

NL batting leader Hanley Ramirez had two singles and two RBIs for Florida, which has at least 10 hits in a club-record 10 straight games.

''Let's keep that going, because all of a sudden we'll be talking about we haven't got a hit in a week,'' Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ''When the good things are going, you try to extend them.''

Houston's Mike Hampton (7-10) gave up three runs and six hits. He left after five innings with a left shoulder strain.

Hampton had an RBI single in the fifth and he appeared to get hurt running the bases. He was replaced by Chris Sampson in the sixth inning, but Hampton said he does not expect to miss his next start. Hampton left his last start after only two innings with a sprained meniscus in his right knee.

After Ramirez reached on a fielder's choice in the first, Cantu worked the count full and hit the 11th pitch of the at-bat for a home run to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead. Cantu's ball was hit so hard that left fielder Carlos Lee didn't even turn around to watch it sail over the scoreboard.

The same was true in the fifth, when Paulino hit his sixth homer of the season to deep left-center to put Florida ahead 3-1.

Hampton said he was more stiff than anything, and it was the home run he gave up to Cantu after the long at-bat that was really bothering him.

''I threw him everything I had - curveballs, sliders, changeups, sinkers,'' Hampton said. ''I kept going after him, and eventually I left one up.''

Ramirez hit a two-run single for his second hit of the game, and Wes Helms had an RBI double to highlight a six-run sixth that gave the Marlins a 9-1 lead. Six Florida hitters had an RBI in the inning, with all the runs charged to Sampson.

The Astros optioned Sampson to Triple-A Round Rock after the game and recalled right-hander Sammy Gervacio .

''I definitely didn't see it coming. I've been struggling as of late,'' Sampson said. ''I haven't lost confidence in myself. They say they're sending me down to work through it and it seems to me like I am leading the team in appearances and innings pitched - both categories. It seems to me like I may need more rest than more work.''

After getting swept by the last-place Washington Nationals a week ago, the Marlins have more than regrouped. They swept Philadelphia in a three-game series last weekend, and after taking three of four from the Astros, the Marlins' playoff hopes are very much alive.

''We know we have to win series,'' Helms said. ''You don't want to put pressure on yourself, but that's pretty much the way it is.''

NOTES: The Marlins optioned Leroux, who was called up earlier in the day, back to Double-A Jacksonville. The team will make a roster move Friday to replace him. ... Marlins OF Cody Ross left the game after six innings with a stiff lower back. He was replaced by Jeremy Hermida . Ross said after the game that he doesn't expect to miss time and was taken out merely as a precaution.