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As surprising as the Orioles sightly-above .500 play has been so far this season, the real astonishing performance this year belongs to the Florida Marlins. The Marlins are baseball's equivalent of a fire-walker -- you see it but you can't figure out how it's done.

With a payroll of just $21.8 million, lowest in the Major Leagues and about one-tenth of the New York Yankees, the Marlins are leading the NL East (26-19) and yesterday added to their early-season accomplishments by handing Arizona's Brandon Webb his first loss of the season after Webb had won his first nine starts. Webb was trying to become only the third pitcher in nearly 90 years to win his first 10 games.

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And it wasn't particularly easy because it wasn't as if Webb had a collapse. Down 1-0, the Marlins used a suicide squeeze bunt to scratch out their first run in the fifth and they needed a seven-inning, three-hit effort by their own starter Ricky Nolasco.

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