Willis had a little help from Arizona second baseman Junior Spivey, who made an errant throw that allowed two runs to score in the sixth inning. That was the difference as Willis and the surging Marlins beat Johnson and slumping Diamondbacks 3-1.
The showdown of showcase left-handers drew a crowd of 37,735—much more than the Marlins projected, and their largest turnout since July 14, 2001. Nearly half the tickets were purchased Wednesday in anticipation of a pitching gem, and that’s what the fans got.
“If you’re not a fan of baseball watching that game, you’re not going to be a fan,” Willis said. “It was just fun to watch.”
The crowd also saw the Marlins win their sixth game in a row and complete their first-ever series sweep of Arizona. The Diamondbacks have lost nine consecutive road games, a team record.
In a battle of the ages, the 21-year-old Willis (10-2) gave up four hits in seven innings. The only run scored by the D-Backs against the D-Train was a homer by the second batter he faced, Alex Cintron.
The 39-year-old Johnson, making just his third start after missing 2 1/2 months following arthroscopic knee surgery, was almost as good. Johnson (1-4) allowed four hits in six innings but gave up two runs—both unearned—in the pivotal sixth.
Arizona led 1-0 when Florida loaded the bases loaded and one out. Miguel Cabrera hit a grounder through Johnson’s legs to Spivey, who appeared to have an easy double play.
Spivey stepped on the bag but then threw low and wide to first for Arizona’s third error. The ball got away from first baseman Shea Hillenbrand, and two runs scored.
That was too many for the Diamondbacks to overcome. They’ve been outscored 13-9 while losing five of seven.
“One mistake changed the outcome of the ballgame, and I take the blame for it,” Spivey said. “That was a mistake that shouldn’t happen.”
Johnson lost to the Marlins for the first time in 10 career starts against them. Asked how he felt about his performance, he replied, “I’m pleased.” When reporters paused before asking another question, he said, “All right, that’s it,” and left the clubhouse.
Cabrera drove in two runs for Florida, including an insurance run with a two-out single in the eighth.
The Marlins, who remained one game behind NL wild-card leader Philadelphia, improved to 6-0 on their homestand. They’ve swept back-to-back series for the first time since the end of the 2000 season.
Outfielder Raul Mondesi, acquired by Arizona in a trade Tuesday with the New York Yankees, made his Diamondbacks debut as a pinch-hitter leading off the eighth. When he was announced, Marlins manager Jack McKeon removed Willis, who received a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout.
He finished with eight strikeouts to four for Johnson, leaving a gap of 3,700 in their career totals. Willis said he wasn’t fazed by facing the five-time Cy Young Award winner.
“I’m a pretty relaxed guy,” Willis said. “No matter how people blow it up, I still have to throw strikes.”
Cintron’s eighth home run put Arizona ahead. Steve Finley then tripled, but Willis escaped further damage by retiring Hillenbrand and Spivey.
He struck out the side in the second and faced the minimum during a stretch of 15 batters.
“Dontrelle is unbelievable,” Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre said. “He’s a special kid. It’s like he has been up here five or six years. Any time you can get that many people coming out to see you, you’re something special.”
Florida’s rally in the sixth began with Pierre reaching on catcher’s interference when his bat hit Chad Moeller’s mitt on a swing. Luis Castillo singled Pierre to third, then stole second, and with one out Mike Lowell drew a 10-pitch walk.
Then came Spivey’s misfire.
“That,” said Arizona manager Bob Brenly, “was really the whole ballgameright there.”
Florida won the season series for only the second time, 5-2. … The Marlins’ Mike Mordecai hit a foul ball into the swimming pool beyond the right-field bullpen. … With a left-hander pitching, Arizona’s Luis Gonzalez sat out after 57 consecutive starts. … Pierre has 30 infield hits and Castillo 29. They’re 1-2 in the National League. … The Marlins were missing two right-handed hitting starters—Derrek Lee and Juan Encarnacion, bothsidelined with minor injuries.