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Willis wins NL-best 9th game

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Florida Marlins usually save their worst
performances for Pittsburgh. With Dontrelle Willis on the mound,
they didn't even need one of his best efforts to win there.

Willis halted Florida's nine-game losing streak in Pittsburgh,
getting homers from Carlos Delgado and Damion Easley to become the
majors' first nine-game winner with a 6-3 victory over the Pirates
on Thursday night.

Nothing new there, according to Marlins closer Todd Jones, who
says Willis should be the NL starter in next month's All-Star game.

"He's been pretty much like a stopper for us all season," said
Jones, who pitched the ninth for his ninth save in 10
opportunities. "It's the first of June, so we should be able to
get him up to 11, 12 wins by the All-Star break."

The Marlins hadn't won in Pittsburgh since an 11-1 victory on
Sept. 8, 2002, and were in danger of being swept in PNC Park for
the third consecutive season after the Pirates took the first three
games of the four-game series.

"We're happy to get out of Pittsburgh -- at least we got one
there and broke the curse, the jinx, whatever you want to call
it," manager Jack McKeon said. "Now I can say I won one game in
Pittsburgh."

Willis (9-2) had a streak of his own to end -- he was 0-2 in
three career starts against the Pirates, who are below .500 at home
(10-14) but are 12-4 there against the Marlins since PNC Park
opened in 2001.

Florida's losing streak in Pittsburgh matched its second-longest
in an opposing ballpark, trailing only an 11-game skid in
Cincinnati from 1998-2000. The Marlins then won their next five
there.

"Now we many never lose a game here," McKeon said.

Until beating the Pirates for only the fifth time in their last
19 meetings, the Marlins had dropped seven of eight overall to fall
a game behind Atlanta in the NL East. Florida moved back on top by
a couple of percentage points following the Braves' 8-6 loss in
Washington on Thursday night.

Easley, making only his second start of the season at third base
to get an extra right-handed bat into the lineup against the
left-handed Williams, hit his seventh homer and doubled. Delgado
went 2-for-3 with his 11th homer and now has four homers and nine
RBI in seven games against Pittsburgh.

The Marlins led 2-0 after the homers by Delgado and Easley
homers and 4-1 after a two-run sixth that included run-scoring
singles by Willis and Luis Castillo off Dave Williams (5-5). Willis
left after allowing nine hits in eight innings, working out of a
jam in the eighth by getting Michael Restovich to pop up with the
bases loaded and a run in.

"There's a reason he's 9-2," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon
said.

Restovich swung at a first-pitch fastball from Willis, even
though the left-hander had walked the previous two hitters to force
in a run.

"I knew he was going to come at me with a fastball, that's the
way he pitched me the whole game," Restovich said. "[Hitting
coach] Gerald Perry and I talked, and if he came in there [with a
fastball], I was going to get on it ... it's what I was looking
for, but I just missed it."

Getting Restovich was the key to the game, said Willis, who
struck out three and walked two before being lifted after throwing
108 pitches. He had thrown only 76 pitches going into the eighth.

"They started to get me against the ropes, and a base hit there
with the bases loaded, the momentum shifts back to them," Willis
said. "The way they've been coming back and beating us and winning
games every time they play against us, I need to try to get the guy
out and keep the game for Jones to save."

Williams was 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA in five May starts before
giving up four runs and eight hits in six innings in only his
second loss since April 30.

Game notes
Willis went 2-for-4 with a double and his third RBI of the
season. ... Marlins CF Juan Pierre, batting .200 since May 8,
didn't start. ... Willis had lost two of three since starting 7-0.
He has allowed 17 hits in his last two starts. ... Pirates SS Jack
Wilson's streak of seven consecutive hits ended when he lined out
in the fifth. ... The Pirates were denied their first four-game
sweep of Florida since the 1994 season. ... Florida hadn't been
swept in a four-game series since Sept. 10-13, 1999, against
Cincinnati. ... Despite the loss, the Pirates are 8-2 against the
Marlins the last two seasons. ... Pittsburgh was trying for its
first four-game winning streak since Aug. 14-17.