SERIES: NL championship series, Game 4; Cubs lead, 2-1.
Now, the rookie phenom will try to beat Clement and the Cubs, and get the Florida Marlins even in the NL championship series as he takes the mound for Game 4 at Pro Player Stadium.
Willis was considered the sixth-best prospect in the Northwest League when the Cubs dealt him, right-handers Julian Tavarez and Jose Cueto and catcher Ryan Jorgenson to Chicago for Clement and reliever Antonio Alfonseca.
While Willis rose quickly through the minors in 2002, Clement went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA during a solid first season with the Cubs.
This year, Willis grabbed the headlines and gained national attention by emerging as the NL’s most heralded rookie. The left-hander with the awkward delivery and million-dollar smile pitched Florida into wild-card contention by winning nine of his first 10 big league decisions.
Willis finished 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA, helping the Marlins earn their first playoff berth since 1997. He insists he doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the organization that gave him his start.
“My first initial thought was just, why me?,” Willis said of the trade from the Cubs.
“What did I do wrong? But that’s just me being naive to the system. It’s a business as well as it is a game. Unfortunately I had to part with the team I was drafted with. But it played out well. I’m happy to be a Marlin, and hopefully I’m a Marlin for a long time.”
Clement comes in after having his second straight solid season for the Cubs, going 14-12 with a 4.11 ERA. He said this game means far more than just a showdown between himself and Willis.
“I’m motivated, because I want to win, not motivated because I’m playing against the Marlins or pitching against a guy who was in a trade for me or anything else like that,” Clement said.
“I think you’ll probably hear something similar from Dontrelle. For me it’s a big game and I’m excited to go out there and pitch.”
Neither pitcher was effective in his first postseason start.
Willis was reached for five runs and five hits over 5 1-3 innings in Florida’s dramatic 7-6 division series-clinching win over San Francisco on Sunday, while Clement surrendered four runs and eight hits over 4 2-3 innings in a 6-4 loss to Atlanta last Saturday.
Clement was bothered by a groin injury in that outing, but said he is raring to go in Game 4.
“It feels great right now,” he said. “I threw my side (session). I think the extra rest has helped it. I don’t feel it at all until maybe after the game now. So for me I think it’s a thing where it’s definitely improved and I’m not expecting it to bother me tomorrow.”
Though Willis struggled on the hill Sunday, he did have an effective day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a triple. Clement is well aware of his opponent’s effectiveness with a bat in his hands.
“He’s been pretty special at the plate,” Clement said of Willis. “I haven’t really went over the hitters and pitchers yet. Obviously he’s somebody you have to watch.”
Doug Glanville’s RBI triple in the top of the 11th inning lifted the Cubs to a 5-4 victory in Game 3, giving Chicago consecutive postseason wins for the first time in 19 years.
Mike Remlinger recorded the final three outs—the last coming when Florida’s Luis Castillo got caught in a rundown between second and third—as the Cubs moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1945.
Miguel Cabrera went 2-for-4 with two runs scored for Florida, which suffered its first loss in three home playoff games this postseason.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cubs - CF Kenny Lofton (.296, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38), RF Sammy Sosa (.279, 40, 103), LF Moises Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.272, 27, 106), 1B Randall Simon (.275, 16, 72), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59), C Damian Miller (.233, 9, 36). Marlins - CF Juan Pierre (.305, 1 HR, 41 RBIs), 2B Castillo (.314, 6, 39), C Ivan Rodriguez (.297, 16, 85), 1B Derrek Lee (.271, 31, 92), 3B Cabrera (.268, 12, 62), RF Juan Encarnacion (.270, 19, 94), LF Jeff Conine (.282, 20, 95), SS Alex Gonzalez (.256, 18, 77).
CUBS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Clement (14-12, 4.11 ERA). Clement is 5-2 with a 3.28 ERA in nine career starts against the Marlins. He was 4-7 with a 5.46 ERA in 15 road starts this year.
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Willis (14-6, 3.30). Willis did not have much success in two starts against the Cubs this year, going 0-1 with a 7.04 ERA. He was pounded for six runs in just two innings of a 16-2 loss to Chicago in Florida on July 20. Willis is 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts at Pro Player this year.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - OF Glanville was only added to the Cubs’ postseason roster because OF Tony Womack was injured. … Chicago last won two straight playoff games in 1984, against the San Diego Padres. The Cubs lost the next three games in that series. … The Cubs hit .346 (9-for-26) against LHP Willis this year. Marlins - OF-3B Cabrera has 10 hits in his last 19 at-bats. … The teams have combined for 14 home runs this series, tying the NLCS record set by San Francisco and St. Louis in 2002. … C Rodriguez is 5-for-14 (.357) with a homer against RHP Clement.
HOME/ROAD RECORDS: Cubs - 44-37 on the road in regular season, 3-1 in postseason. Marlins - 53-28 at home in regular season, 2-1 in postseason.
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