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Willis wins sixth straight in rain-shortened game

6/21/2003

MIAMI (AP) -- Dontrelle Willis freely admitted that Saturday was far from his sharpest outing of the season. It was still good enough.

The rookie left-hander won his sixth straight start, allowing
only two hits as the Florida Marlins beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2-0 in a rain-shortened game Saturday night.

The teams finished only five innings. Tampa Bay sent
pinch-hitter Jason Tyner to the plate to open the sixth inning as
the rain intensified, but the delay was called after Willis' third
pitch of the inning sailed to the backstop screen. The game was
called 1 hour, 52 minutes later.

"One step closer to the playoffs,'' Willis said. "I say it
over and over again -- you have to win these ballgames. It was an
ugly game, but it's good to be on the winning end of ugly games.
Losing one is that much worse.''

Florida (37-39) climbed within two games of the .500 mark for
the first time since May 3. Tampa Bay lost for the 13th time in its
last 15 games.

"We've had bad luck all year long,'' said Tampa Bay right
fielder Aubrey Huff, who had one of the Devil Rays' two hits. "We
just haven't had the horseshoe on our side here all year.''

Willis (7-1) struck out four, walked only one and lowered his
ERA for the season to 2.38.

In his last six starts, his ERA is even more impressive -- 0.84.
He's allowed four runs in 42 2/3 innings during his winning streak,
and three of those four runs came June 11 at Milwaukee.

"That's the sign of a good pitcher, a guy who can go out there,
not have his best stuff and still get the hitters out,'' Marlins
manager Jack McKeon said. "It was one of those nights. You know
things are going good for him when you can sneak in that one.''

Jason Standridge (0-2) allowed five hits and two runs in five
innings for the Devil Rays. He cruised through the first three
innings, but was touched for three hits in the fourth -- including
consecutive two-out RBI doubles by Juan Encarnacion and Derrek Lee.

"He gave us five very respectable innings of baseball,'' Devil
Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "He made one bad pitch to Lee,
hung that breaking ball. But outside of that, the kid pitched
well.''

Willis retired the last eight batters. He walked Standridge to
open the third, but then struck out Julio Lugo on a 3-2 pitch -- and
Standridge was thrown out as he ran slowly toward second on the
same play. Tampa Bay didn't have another baserunner.

"I knew that if I kept on going, I was getting thrown out
anyway,'' Standridge said. "It'd been so long said I'd been on the
... basepaths, since high school, six or seven years ago. I didn't
know what else to do.''

Standridge could have gotten out of the fourth inning unscathed.
Ivan Rodriguez singled with one out in the Florida fourth, then
scored all the way from first on Encarnacion's double to the
left-center field gap two batters later.

Tampa Bay shortstop Julio Lugo hesitated before making the relay
throw to the plate, which helped Rodriguez beat the play and score
the game's first run.

Lee followed with his double, also to the left-center gap, and
Encarnacion scored easily.

"When you're struggling, things don't go your way,'' Piniella
said.

Game notes
Marlins CF Juan Pierre, who had been successful on 12
straight stolen-base attempts, was caught stealing twice. One was
on a missed hit-and-run, the other came when Pierre tried to steal
third, ending the fifth inning. ... Florida is 5-0 in its last five
games started by left-handers. ... Lugo has struck out seven times
in the last three games. He had struck out seven times in his
previous 14. ... Marlins 3B Mike Lowell is 1-for-17 in his last six
games, his batting average falling from .305 to .291. ... LF Miguel
Cabrera, who gave Florida a 3-1 win Friday with a walkoff two-run
homer in his major league debut, went 0-for-2. ... Tampa Bay has
held the Marlins to a .200 batting average in the last eight games
between the teams, but only managed a 4-4 record in those games.
... Florida RHP Josh Beckett threw three innings, allowing two hits
and no runs in a rehab start at Class-A Jupiter. Beckett, out since
May 9 with an elbow strain, struck out five and threw 42 pitches in
his rehab debut.