Willis homers, gets complete game win

HOUSTON (AP) -- Dontrelle Willis gave Florida the NL wild-card
lead with an outstanding all-around effort.

The effervescent lefty homered and earned his 21st win, pitching
his seventh complete game this season in the Marlins' 8-2 victory
Monday night over the Houston Astros.

"He's a complete guy," Florida manager Jack McKeon said. "He
hits, he fields, he pitches. With him in the lineup, it's like an
extra bat."

McKeon was asked if there is anything Willis can't do.

"He probably is going to have to work on covering second
base," McKeon said with a smile. "He's a gamer. He's a
competitor. You almost expect him to go out and have a game like
this every time. It's a surprise if it doesn't happen."

Florida moved a half-game ahead of the Astros in the wild-card
standings, taking the top spot for the first time since after games
of Aug. 30.

Willis (21-8) tied St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter for the major
league lead in victories and complete games by winning his sixth
straight start. He allowed eight hits, struck out four and walked
one in the opener of a key four-game series.

Willis connected for a two-run shot off Scott Strickland in the
sixth inning, giving the Marlins a 6-1 lead. It was his third
career homer and first since April 14, 2004, against Montreal in
Puerto Rico. He also scored twice and has 11 RBI this year. He
hasn't lost since Aug. 12 against San Francisco.

The pitcher's batting average of .259 is higher than his ERA of

"He's doing something amazing out there this year," teammate
Juan Pierre said. "He's playing both sides of the plate and you
don't see that very often. Winning 21 games and hitting the way he
is is unreal.

"He's a position player in a pitcher's body."

Willis still isn't satisfied.

"I continue to hurt my team with my bunting," he said. "I'm
definitely going to work on that in the offseason.

"But I play hard. I definitely leave it all on the field every
time. (Team management) is still upset at me for diving headfirst
back to the base. But that's the only way I know to play."

Carlos Delgado, Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine also homered for
Florida, which won for the fifth time in seven games. The Astros
have lost three of four and are a half-game ahead of Philadelphia
for second place in the wild-card chase.

"We just had a lot of Dontrelle Willis tonight, more than I'd
care to see," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "Brandon (Backe)
threw the ball well. He had a lot of good pitches and only a few
mistakes. That was a decent job against a team that is really
swinging the bat well."

"What worries me is that we've had three games that are
stinkers. We didn't look good against Milwaukee and we didn't look
good tonight. They pretty much took it to us tonight."

Backe (8-8) lasted five innings and allowed four runs, three
earned, and seven hits in his second game back after missing five
weeks with a ribcage injury.

"He was on a roll," Backe said about Willis. "I looked up and
he had only 39 pitches going into the fifth inning. That means he
had a lot of easy outs and a lot of easy innings.

"He doesn't have 21 wins for nothing. He has very good stuff.
He mixes up his pitches well and he's difficult to hit. He's a good
hitter as well."

Lance Berkman was 0-for-3 against Willis.

"He's not a guy who's going to give you a lot of different
looks," Berkman said. "When you go up there, you know pretty much
what you're going to get. He's got something goofy on that
fastball. You just can't seem to get a good hit on it."

Delgado hit a two-run homer in the first, and the Marlins
stretched their lead to 3-0 with an unearned run in the fourth.

After Damion Easley walked, Pierre had a bunt single and third
baseman Jose Vizcaino was charged with an error on the throw,
allowing Easley to reach third. Paul Lo Duca then drove in Easley
with a single.

Cabrera led off the fifth with his 31st home run to make it 4-0.
Jason Lane hit his 22nd homer leading off the bottom half.

After Willis homered in the sixth, Berkman's sacrifice fly in
the bottom half made it 6-2.

Conine added a two-run shot in the ninth off Russ Springer.

Game notes
The 23-year-old Willis is the first pitcher younger than 24
to win 20 games since Ramon Martinez in 1990 -- and the youngest
lefty since Vida Blue in 1971, according to the Elias Sports
Bureau. ... Lo Duca was back in the lineup after missing two games
with a hamstring injury that has bothered him since Aug. 15. He has
missed nine games with the injury. ... Houston's Brad Ausmus leads
NL catchers with 54 hits since July 1. ... Astros 3B Morgan Ensberg
missed his sixth game with a bruised wrist. He is day-to-day. ...
Willis is the first pitcher with 20 wins and 20 hits since
Houston's Mike Hampton in 1999, according to the Marlins.