Willis struggles on mound but hooks win No. 17

MIAMI (AP) -- Dontrelle Willis struggled with his control, sweltered in the 92-degree sunshine, lasted only five innings and still won.

Willis gave up two runs but stranded four runners in scoring position and drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly, helping the Florida Marlins beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-2 on Monday.

Four innings of shutout work by the bullpen helped Willis (17-8) earn a share of the major-league lead in victories with St. Louis' Chris Carpenter (17-4).

"This is the flip side of me throwing eight innings and losing 1-0 [two starts ago]," Willis said. "That's how baseball is."

Willis allowed five hits and a season-high five walks, departing with a 3-2 lead after throwing 105 pitches.

"It's a good omen that he can pick up a win when he doesn't have his really good stuff," manager Jack McKeon said. "He'll get his 20. You can put money on that."

Asked about the prospect of 20 wins, Willis said, "I never fathomed it. I never fathomed winning 15 games."

With one more victory, he'll tie the team record of 18 wins set by Carl Pavano last year.

Florida relievers allowed only one baserunner to complete a six-hitter. Antonio Alfonseca followed Willis with a 1-2-3 inning, Guillermo Mota struck out five in two perfect innings and Todd Jones pitched the ninth for his 28th save in 30 chances, including 18 straight.

"Our bullpen is the best in the league," said Mota, overlooking the relievers' 4.33 ERA. But the Marlins' pitching has been sensational lately, allowing a total of five runs in their
past seven victories.

The Marlins went 9-4 on a two-week homestand, all against the NL West, and won their fourth series in a row, taking three of four games from Los Angeles. They've won five of the past six games and began the week trailing wild-card leader Philadelphia by one game.

"The way we're going now, anything can happen," McKeon said.

Los Angeles manager Jim Tracy held a team meeting before the game to stress that the Dodgers remain in the NL West race, even though they're 12 games below .500. They began the week five games behind division leader San Diego.

Dodgers rookie Edwin Jackson (0-1), making his first appearance of the season, gave up five walks and five hits in 4 2/3 innings but left trailing only 3-2. He was recalled from Double-A Jacksonville to take injured left-hander Odalis Perez's turn in the rotation.

"It wasn't necessarily my best start, but it wasn't necessarily my worst start," Jackson said.

Carlos Delgado went 3-for-4 with two RBI for Florida, and Damion Easley reached base five times.

Los Angeles led 2-1 when third baseman Antonio Perez lost Delgado's foul popup in the sun and let it drop leading off the fourth. Granted a reprieve, Delgado singled.

"When things are going your way, you catch a break," Delgado said.

Jeff Conine also singled, and Alex Gonzalez's RBI double made the score 2-all. A walk loaded the bases, and Willis' sacrifice fly to the warning track in left put Florida ahead to stay.

The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the second on RBI singles by Jose Cruz and Dioner Navarro. That was as many runs as Willis allowed in his previous 38 innings.

"We had him on the ropes," Tracy said. "We couldn't get the big hit to open the game up. Give him some credit for that."

The Dodgers completed a 3-4 trip. In the past eight games they've faced Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, A.J. Burnett
and Willis.

Game notes
Dodgers center fielder Milton Bradley grounded into a double play to end the first inning and then left the game with an irritated patella tendon in his left knee. His status is day-to-day. ... Dodgers right-hander Jonathan Broxton was optioned to Double-A Jacksonville. Right-hander Franquelis Osoria will be recalled Tuesday from Triple-A Las Vegas. ... Florida scored first for the 28th time in the past 33 games. ... Willis beat Jackson on May 3, 2003 when both pitched in
the Double-A Southern League. Willis' next game was for the Marlins, and he went on to become NL rookie of the year.