WASHINGTON (AP) -- That confounding, high-kick delivery. That
flat-brimmed cap. That "Gee, this is fun!" smile.
Now Dontrelle Willis can add "20-game winner" to his list of
trademarks -- just like his boyhood idol, Dave Stewart.
Willis became the first pitcher in Marlins history to collect 20
victories in a season, allowing four hits and a run over six
innings to help Florida beat the Washington Nationals 12-1 on
Wednesday night in a game between clubs chasing Houston in the NL
"I'm dumbfounded right now, very ecstatic just because of how
my teammates felt for me today. They were pulling for me," said
Willis, who got a celebratory beer poured on his head by closer
"I'm kind of breathtaken. It's historic. It's a beautiful
thing, not only for baseball, but for my team. Hopefully we'll just
Florida remained one game behind the Astros in the wild card,
while Philadelphia is 2½ behind and the Nationals are 3½ back.
Willis improved to 20-8 with a 2.52 ERA, tying St. Louis' Chris
Carpenter (20-4) for the major-league lead in wins. Willis walked
three and struck out three; the only run he gave up was on Rick
Short's first major-league homer, in the sixth.
Growing up in Oakland, Willis rooted for and admired Stewart,
who won 20 games for the Athletics every year from 1987-90.
"I remember going to the games and being a little boy and
watching him and watching the classics," Willis said. "And
everything he meant not only to the team but to the city. I never
thought I'd be in a situation like this."
For Willis, this had to rank among the easiest of his victories.
He was facing the worst offense in the majors, after all. And the
Nationals -- down to three regular starting pitchers because of
injuries -- pieced together a patchwork of relievers who were
The bullpen, Nationals manager Frank Robinson said, is
"teetering on the brink of exhaustion."
John Halama (0-3) started for Washington, but was gone in the
first inning, yanked by Robinson after only 24 pitches (13 balls)
and two outs, having allowed one run, two hits and a walk.
"I don't think anybody wouldn't be surprised," Halama said.
"It was a big surprise. But he's the manager, he makes the
decisions, and that's that. I do what I'm told."
Said Robinson: "I wasn't going to sit there and wait until he
threw the game away in the first inning. You're going to pitch for
me, you've got to throw strikes."
It began a pattern, with Robinson and pitching coach Randy St.
Claire wearing out a path from the dugout to the mound.
Travis Hughes was next, giving up two runs and two hits in 1 1/3
innings. Then came Jason Bergmann, with the same numbers. And so
on. In all, seven Nationals pitchers gave up 17 hits, walked seven
and hit three batters. Each allowed at least one earned run.
Carlos Delgado had the biggest blow, a two-run shot off Hughes
in the third for his 28th homer, and he added a sacrifice fly the
next inning to reach 100 RBI. Miguel Cabrera got to 100 RBI, too,
and had two singles and three walks.
"These guys are on a mission," Marlins manager Jack McKeon
said. "Everyone's chipping in now."
But his best work, of course, was on the mound, where he's
recovered from a July slump to return to the dominance that made
him an All-Star. In his last five starts, the left-hander is 5-0
with a 1.26 ERA.
"He didn't even have his good stuff today," Washington's
Marlon Byrd said. "Tonight felt like we were a second-tier team."
And Willis improved to 3-0 this season against the Nationals,
making him 8-2 for his career against the franchise that used to be
"Certain pitchers just have your number," Robinson said before
Referring to his players, Robinson added: "They're aware of it,
of course. It HAS to change sooner or later. It HAS to, so maybe
this is the night."
Well, not even close.
There was a moment where McKeon held his breath, though. That
was in the first inning, when Jose Guillen hit a comebacker, and
Willis came off the mound awkwardly and felt his right knee pop,
but made the play for the third out.
The pitcher hopped twice, then came to a stop before leaving the
field. A couple of teammates checked on Willis, who had a slight
limp the rest of the way to the dugout.
"It kind of stung for a little bit," Willis said, "but it's
Willis, who turns 24 in January, is the first NL pitcher
under that age to win 20 games since Ramon Martinez in 1990. ...
Willis was honored Wednesday as the Marlins' nominee for the
Roberto Clemente Award. ... Willis improved to 44-25 for his
career, ranking him third in club wins behind A.J. Burnett (49) and
Brad Penny (48). ... Washington's Ryan Zimmerman, the No. 4 overall
pick in June's amateur draft, made his major-league start and made
two errors at shortstop.