Marlins 3, Expos 0

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MIAMI (AP)—Dontrelle Willis did a little bit of everything Thursday night—even getting dirty with a headfirst slide into homeplate.

Willis, last year’s NL Rookie of the year, pitched five-hit ball into the eighth inning, went 3-for-3 and scored a run to help lift the Florida Marlins over the Montreal Expos 3-0.

“If we had lost, it wouldn’t have meant anything,” Willis said. “I’m just trying to get a ‘W.’ It’s not really complex. I just want to win. I just want to get back to October. Everybody’s hungry to get to back in the situation we were last year.”

Willis played a key role in a two-run fifth that put ahead Florida 3-0. He singled with one out and reached second on Juan Pierre’s ground out. When Luis Castillo singled to left, Willis scored using a headfirst slide to avoid catcher Brian Schneider’s tag attempt.

“Whatever I got to do,” Willis said. “If I have to dive to not make an out, I’m going do it. If I have to slide headfirst, I’m going to do it. It’s not the smartest thing to do, but I’m going to do it for this team because I love this team.”

Marlins catcher Mike Redmond couldn’t believe Willis’ slide.

“I’d like to see him go feet-first,” Redmond said, “but it worked out. He’s still standing.”

Miguel Cabrera then lined an 0-2 pitch into center to score Castillo and make it 3-0.

Mike Lowell led off the second inning with his first homer of the season for the defending World Champions, who took two of three to win their sixth straight series against Montreal.

Willis went 7 2-3 innings striking out eight and walking one in his first start. He retired 12 in a row between the fourth and eighth innings.

“He did what we talked about (Wednesday) night—go out there, throw strikes and stay ahead of the hitters, and he did,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “I told him at the end, ‘You see the difference you get? Sometimes, you don’t want to give yourself enough credit. You want to be tricky. Just go after them.”’

Chad Fox got the final out of the eighth with Carl Everett on first and Armando Benitez pitched a perfect ninth for his second save.

Montreal’s Tomo Ohka (0-1) allowed three runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings.

Lowell, who did not homer in 16 spring training games, fouled off five pitches before sending a 2-2 pitch into the left-field seats in the second for a 1-0 lead.

Willis also had singles in the third and sixth innings, and received a big ovation after diving unsuccessfully for a foul pop near the Marlins dugout in the fourth.

With Willis due up with two outs in the sixth and Redmond on first, Expos manager Frank Robinson replaced Ohka with right-hander Sun-Woo Kim. Willis singled through the hole into left.

“Hey, try somebody else—it can’t get any worse,” Robinson said. “That may be the first time I’ve gone with a new pitcher with the pitcher hitting.”

Montreal’s biggest threat against Willis was in the fourth, when they had runners on first and second with one out. But he struck out Schneider and Ohka to end the inning.

“With that herky-jerky stuff he does, you have to find the release point as soon as possible,” Montreal’s Brad Wilkerson said. “He just goes out and attacks you.”

Florida loaded the bases but did not score in the third, when Willis had aone-out single.

Notes

Willis batted .241 (14-for-58) as a rookie. … The only other Marlins pitcher to get three hits in a game was Chris Hammond on July 13, 1995, at Los Angeles. … Willis had a three-hit game in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS. … Three games into the season, the Expos started three different left fielders. Juan Rivera started Thursday night. Rookie Terrmel Sledge and Ron Calloway had started the first two games. … The Marlins were expecting a crowd of 25,000 fans for Friday night’s series opener against Philadelphia and 40,000 forSaturday night’s game. There were 18,121 in attendance Thursday.

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