MIAMI (AP) -- Leading with his valuable left arm, Dontrelle Willis dived for the plate and slid across safely. That's why he was covered with infield dirt when he set a Florida Marlins record for wins in a season.
NL wild-card standings
Helping himself with his baserunning and his bat, Willis earned his 19th victory Friday night, pitching into the ninth inning of a 4-2 win over the New York Mets.He went 2-for-4, including a double in the Marlins' two-run sixth. He scored their final run, racing home from third on a grounder and beating the throw with a headfirst slide."He's the complete package," manager Jack McKeon said. "He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. There's a lot of kid in him."Willis (19-8), who should make at least five more starts, broke the franchise mark for victories that he shared with Carl Pavano, who went 18-8 last year. Willis won his fourth consecutive start and tied St. Louis' Chris Carpenter for the major-league lead in victories."I never thought I'd be in a situation like this -- to get that many wins in a single season," Willis said. "I'm definitely rolling with it."David Wright's RBI single chased Willis with one out in the ninth, but Todd Jones finished for his 33rd save in 35 tries. Willis allowed seven hits and two runs, one earned.His gem came at the start of a key series between NL wild-card contenders. Florida remained 1½ games behind wild-card leader Philadelphia, while New York fell 3½ games back.The Mets have lost five of six."I still think we have a pretty good chance to do what we want to do," said Victor Zambrano, who allowed 12 hits and four runs in five-plus innings.The game drew 25,916 fans, many of them transplanted New Yorkers."There were a lot of people out there rooting for the Mets," McKeon said. "We showed them."With the victory, McKeon improved his career record to 999-924. He can become the seventh active manager to reach the 1,000-win milestone Saturday.Willis outpitched Zambrano (7-11) and gave the Marlins' sputtering offense a lift, too.After Alex Gonzalez led off the sixth with a single, Willis tried to bunt twice and failed before doubling to put runners at second and third. Juan Pierre's RBI single past a drawn-in infield made the score 3-1 and sent Zambrano to the showers.Luis Castillo then hit a grounder with the infield still drawn in, and Willis bolted for the plate and scored when second baseman Miguel Cairo threw wide."That was the first instinct I had -- to slide," Willis said. "I figured the quickest way I could get to the plate was to reach out as far as I can. I just said, 'I'm going to give up my body.' It's all about putting pressure on the other guys."Florida slugger Carlos Delgado said the reaction in the dugout to Willis' slide was "sweet and sour.""We get pumped up, but we also get a little panicked because we don't want him to hurt a finger or a shoulder," Delgado said. "He's our bread and butter."The Marlins needed Willis' offensive help. They totaled 12 hits but stranded 12 runners and had another thrown out at the plate.Willis gave up a run in the third when Ramon Castro led off with a double and came home on a single by Jose Reyes. Cliff Floyd, who last homered on Aug. 16, sent right fielder Juan Encarnacion to the wall to make a catch in the sixth.Willis improved to 7-1 against the Mets in 10 starts with an ERA of 1.90. He pitched a three-hit shutout against them July 3."He wasn't as sharp as before," Floyd said. "But so what? He ended up getting a 'W.' He'll sleep well tonight."Zambrano needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning, when Florida took a 1-0 lead. Castillo singled, Delgado walked and Encarnacion blooped a two-out RBI single.The Marlins left the bases loaded in the third but took a 2-1 lead on three singles and Mike Lowell's sacrifice fly.
The Marlins play all but four of their final 29 games against division rivals. ... Zambrano came into the game 2-0 with an ERA of 0.82 in Miami. ... Willis has 18 hits, a Marlins record for a pitcher. He's batting .243.