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Willis, Marlins' offense snap Nationals' win streak

WASHINGTON (AP) -- When Dontrelle Willis is on the mound, the
Florida Marlins don't need much help.

They got some, anyway, from the Washington Nationals, whose
five-game winning streak ended Monday night thanks to a combination
of their own miscues, Willis' wizardry, and Florida's suddenly
potent offense.

Willis extended his season-opening shutout streak to 24 innings
before giving up three runs in the seventh, a half-inning after
Florida batted around to build a big lead en route to a 9-4 victory
over NL East leader Washington.

Willis must have been pleased, right? Not exactly.

"Regardless of how I'm doing, I want to stay in the game,"
Willis said. "I don't care if they are making a run at me or not.
I didn't want to come out of that game."

Bidding to become the first pitcher to start a year with three
complete-game shutouts since Luis Tiant in 1966 -- back when the
Senators were still in D.C. -- Willis (3-0, 1.12 ERA) sailed
through six innings, allowing just two hits.

"He's got an awkward, unorthodox delivery, and he has great
movement on his ball," Washington catcher Gary Bennett said.

Popping gum, tugging on his flat brim and using that high leg
kick, Willis was as impressive as he was in a five-hitter against
Washington on April 8 and a three-hitter against Philadelphia on
April 13.

"Why he dominates us, I don't know," Nationals manager Frank
Robinson said. "Going against a guy like Willis, you can't afford
to give runs away and give him the lead."

That's precisely what Washington did. The Marlins went up 2-0 in
the fifth with a solitary single and an assortment of help: two
four-pitch walks, an error and a passed ball. Bennett was busy in
his second start of the season; he threw out two would-be
base-stealers in the first, threw out another runner in the third,
had two errors plus the passed ball, hit a double and was hit by a
pitch.

"We didn't come out and do the little things tonight. We made a
couple of mental mistakes," outfielder Brad Wilkerson said. "When
you give them extra outs out there, it's going to be tough to beat
them."

It was the kind of help Florida's offense has needed of late.
The Marlins came in ranked ninth in the NL in runs and scored just
12 over their preceding four games.

"We're going to come around," Willis said. "You definitely
see the consistency in the last couple days."

The visitors tacked on another two runs in the sixth with
back-to-back doubles by Miguel Cabrera and Juan Encarnacion, who
moved to third on a wild pitch by Tomo Ohka (1-2) and came home on
Paul Lo Duca's sacrifice fly. Ohka allowed five walks, six hits and
four runs -- three earned -- in five-plus innings.

And then came the seventh -- the inning in which the Nationals
had bat-around breakouts the previous two games. This time, the
Marlins strung together six consecutive hits off Joe Horgan with
two outs to increase a 4-0 edge to 9-0.

Luis Castillo, who walked four times, started it with a single
to right. Carlos Delgado followed with a double. Cabrera singled
and Encarnacion, Mike Lowell and Lo Duca all doubled.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Just like that, the Marlins were in control --
and the Nationals' fans were silent for the first time during the
city's first major league homestand in 34 years. They finally made
some noise when Alex Gonzalez's groundout ended the inning.

"They've got a good lineup," Horgan said, "but it doesn't
matter what lineup you're facing if you don't throw pitches."

After waiting out the long top half, Willis was far less
intimidating in the seventh. He faced four batters without
recording an out, including Jose Vidro's homer to left. But the
underworked Marlins bullpen -- the team leads the majors with five
complete games -- finished up, with Antonio Alfonseca, Matt Perisho,
Nate Bump and Jim Mecir getting the final nine outs.

All that against a Nationals team that entered the game with a
.473 team slugging percentage, second in the majors.

After earning Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Marlins
win the World Series in 2003, Willis took a step back last season,
going 10-11 with a 4.02 ERA.

"For the most part, he's got a better grip on pitching -- how to
get hitters out," manager Jack McKeon said. "He's much more
focused."

Game notes
A night after going 6-for-13, Juan Pierre, Castillo and
Delgado -- the Marlins' top three hitters -- went 5-for-11, plus
Castillo's walks. ... Nationals SS Cristian Guzman went 0-for-3,
dropping his average to .106 (5-for-47).