It has already been a memorable rookie season for Dontrelle Willis. He can add one more big memory to it Tuesday night.
Florida, seeking its first playoff appearance since winning the 1997 World Series, leads Philadelphia by one game in the race for the NL’s final postseason spot. The teams complete their season series with this three-game set at Pro Player Stadium.
Willis was one of the biggest stories in baseball earlier this season after he started 9-1 and made the NL All-Star team. He hasn’t been as successful in the second half, but has rebounded to go 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in four September starts.
The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.20 ERA in his last three outings, but couldn’t beat the Phillies in his last start. Despite striking out a career high-tying nine, he allowed four runs, including two homers, and left after 6 2-3 innings without a decision in Philadelphia’s 5-4 victory last Thursday.
The Phillies won two of three in that series, but couldn’t capitalize. They lost two of three at home over the weekend to the dismal Cincinnati Reds, managing only 10 hits in dropping the final two games.
Philadelphia lost 4-3 on Sunday, despite Jim Thome’s 44th homer. The Phillies, who have already lost the season series with the Marlins, know what they must do in this series.
“We’ve got to win two out of three,” manager Larry Bowa said. “We would have needed to win two out of three if we won (Sunday) or not.”
“This is the position we wanted to be in,” said Juan Pierre, who sparked Florida with a pair of bunt singles. “We’re one game up and we control our own destiny.”
Kevin Millwood starts for the Phillies, who have lost four straight games in Miami.
STANDINGS: Phillies - 3rd place, 11 1/2 GB, NL East. Marlins - 2nd place, 10 1/2 GB, NL East.
PHILLIES PROBABLE STARTER: Millwood (14-11, 3.87 ERA). Millwood couldn’t snap his two-game losing streak his last time out, leaving without a decision in the Phillies’ 5-4 victory over the Marlins. The right-hander has just two wins in his last seven starts. He is 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA in five starts against Florida this season and just 5-7 lifetime in 22 games, including 19 starts.
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTER: Willis (13-6, 3.37 ERA). Willis is 0-0 in two starts against the Phillies this season.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Phillies - Mike Lieberthal, .320 avg.; Thome, 44 HRs, 126 RBIs and 106 runs; Bobby Abreu, 22 SBs. Marlins - Luis Castillo, .314 avg. and 97 runs; Mike Lowell, 32 HRs and 105 RBIs; Pierre, 61 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Marlins, 10-6.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Phillies - 1B Thome has 24 RBIs in September. … RHP Millwood is just 4-5 with a 4.29 ERA since the All-Star break. … The Phillies are hitting just .200 (10-for-50) as a team this season against LHP Willis. Marlins - The Marlins are 9-4 at home in games started by Willis. … Florida needs to win its final six games to match the ’97 championship team for the best record in franchise history at 92-70. … INF Pierre has just one stolen base in his last 11 games and still needs one to tie 2B Castillo’s team record of 62 set in 2000.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Phillies - 37-41 on the road; Marlins - 48-27 at home.
INJURIES: Phillies - INF David Bell (back), 15-day DL; RHP David Coggin (shoulder), 60-day DL. Marlins - 3B Lowell (hand), 15-day DL; LHP Armando Almanza (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Toby Borland (appendicitis), 60-day DL; RHP A.J. Burnett (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Tim Spooneybarger (elbow), 60-day DL.