His young teammates got a taste on Sunday.
Willis threw a three-hitter and matched a career high with 12
strikeouts in his first shutout of the season, carrying Florida to
a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies that split a four-game
series between NL wild-card hopefuls.
Willis (10-11) retired his last 13 batters, allowed no runners
past second, tied A.J. Burnett for the Marlins' career record with
eight shutouts and passed Burnett as the franchise leader in
complete games with 15.
The left-hander threw 80 of his 122 pitches for strikes, walking
"I've won big games. I've lost big games. I've been on both
sides of the fence," said Willis, a rookie when the Marlins won
the 2003 World Series. "I don't feel a lot of pressure. I've had a
taste of both sides, so I just want to go out there, have fun and
do my thing."
Wes Helms hit two sacrifice flies and Hanley Ramirez had three
hits, a stolen base and a run for the Marlins, who jumped on
Phillies starter Cole Hamels (7-8) for two first-inning runs and
let Willis take over.
Ryan Howard -- whose 56 home runs lead the majors -- had two
singles for the Phillies, taking advantage of Florida's infield
shifts both times. Howard grounded out in the seventh, the first
time in 12 plate appearances that he didn't reach base.
When Willis capped his shutout by striking out Chase Utley for
the third time, Howard was on deck.
"He got ahead of us all game long," Utley said. "When he gets
ahead in the count, it works in his advantage. He's tough. That's
the bottom line. We caught him on a pretty good day."
The Marlins and Phillies, both 72-71, are now 2½ games behind NL
wild-card leader San Diego, which beat San Francisco 10-2 on Sunday
night. The Giants also trail the Padres by 2½ games.
Philadelphia's loss cut the New York Mets' magic number for
clinching the NL East title to four. The Mets come to Florida for a
three-game series starting Monday, when Marlins rookie Anibal
Sanchez will make his first start since throwing a no-hitter
against Arizona last week.
"It doesn't get any easier," Florida manager Joe Girardi said.
Willis left his start against Arizona last week after six
innings because of dehydration, but stayed cool the whole way on
"He saved his best game for a real important time," Girardi
Hamels threw strikes on his first three pitches of the
afternoon, yet things unraveled quickly from there. He needed 34
pitches just to escape the first inning, after Miguel Cabrera
knocked Ramirez in with a single and Helms brought Dan Uggla home
two batters later with a sacrifice fly to center.
Hamels gave up two runs, six hits and five walks in four innings
for the Phillies, who play Florida six more times in the season's
final 19 games.
"I guess a split is better than going 1-3," Phillies manager
Charlie Manuel said.
The Marlins stranded eight runners against Hamels -- with cleanup
hitter Josh Willingham leaving the bases loaded twice. He ended the
second by grounding out on a checked swing, then struck out to end
another Florida chance in the fourth.
But with the way Willis was rolling, it didn't matter. The crowd
of 20,308 cheered when Girardi let his pitcher bat in the eighth
inning, giving him a chance to finish the game.
"I play once a week," Willis said. "I wanted to be out
Phillies reliever Arthur Rhodes will undergo an MRI on his
left shoulder sometime in the next couple of days, but Manuel said
Rhodes' season is probably over. ... It was the fourth time Willis
has struck out 10 or more. ... The Marlins will wear special caps
Monday, part of a series of tributes planned around baseball to
commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. ...
Philadelphia is 18-8 on Sundays.