Marlins 7, Cardinals 3

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—Wherever he goes, Dontrelle Willis is a winner.

The 21-year-old rookie pitched eight impressive innings and Ivan Rodriguez homered as the Florida Marlins beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-3 Wednesday night.

Willis (11-2), who beat Randy Johnson in his last outing, shrugged off a shaky start to tie the team record for wins by a rookie set by Brian Meadows in 1998.

“He’s money,” teammate Mike Lowell said. “He’s no fluke, he’s not a flash in the pan.”

Six of his victories have come on the road, at six different parks. Willis doesn’t care where he pitches, noting that the distance from the mound to the plate never changes.

“It’s not like you’re really going overseas,” Willis said. “I don’t really let the surroundings bother me. I go out there and try to have fun regardless of whether it’s New York, Oakland or Miami.”

Willis walked Bo Hart on four pitches to start the game and gave up a two-run double to Scott Rolen later in the first, but was virtually unhittable after that.

Eduardo Perez homered in the eighth off Willis, who allowed three runs and five hits. Working for the first time in a week due to days off for the Marlins, he struck out six and walked one.

The Cardinals faced Willis twice in spring training when he was an unknown prospect, and scored six runs—three earned—in four innings.

“I remember them, I remember them clearly,” Willis said. “In spring training they hit me hard. You see the lineup card and there’s nowhere you can breathe.”

This was the first time St. Louis saw the high-kicking lefty in the regular season and manager Tony La Russa packed his lineup with right-handed batters to no avail, with Jim Edmonds the exception in the sixth slot for the first time since 2001. Edmonds was 1-for-4, going hitless in three at-bats against Willis.

“You can’t help but root for him,” Edmonds said. “You hate to play against him and have him beat you, but he’s an awesome kid.”

In his last three starts, Willis has allowed only five runs on 12 hits in 21 innings with 19 strikeouts and six walks.

The top five in the Marlins’ order was 10-for-16 against rookie starter Dan Haren, who held the bottom four hitless in 11 at-bats.

“It was a little more exciting going against a guy like him,” Haren said of Willis. “Unfortunately he shut us down and I didn’t keep us in the game long enough.

“He’s been doing it all year and he’s impressed everybody.”

Florida moved 11 games above .500 for the first time since 1997 with its ninth victory in 11 games, and will go for a sweep of the three-game series on Thursday.

Albert Pujols doubled in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to a career-best 20 games, during which he’s batting .405 (32-for-79). It’s the Cardinals’ longest streak since Placido Polanco also hit in 20 in a row in 2001.

The top five Marlins hitters all had at least two hits. Rodriguez, who scored three times and Lowell each got three hits and Juan Encarnacion had a pair of RBI singles.

Haren (2-3), who threw seven shutout innings in his last start, gave up five runs on 10 hits in six-plus innings.

The odd-numbered innings were trouble for the 22-year-old rookie, who gave up a run on three hits in the first, two runs on four hits in the third and Rodriguez’s 15th homer in the fifth. Another run was charged to him in the Marlins’ three-run seventh that put Florida ahead 7-2.

Cardinals reliever Cal Eldred allowed one of the runs to score in the seventh with a wild pitch that sailed about 10 feet over the head of catcherMike Matheny.

Notes

The last Cardinals player to hit in more than 20 straight games was Joe McEwing, who hit in 25 in a row in 1999. … Rolen, who has four Gold Gloves at 3B in the last five seasons, nearly made errors on consecutive plays in the sixth. He dropped Miguel Cabrera’s liner to start the inning. Then after gloving Alex Gonzalez’s liner, he threw wildly to first in an attempt for a double play. The Cardinals got a DP anyway when the ball caromed off the stands to 1B Pujols, whose throw to second beat Gonzalez. … The Marlins are 43-20when scoring first.

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