Marlins 4, Phillies 0
Which he did. Willis completed a three-hitter for his second consecutive shutout, and Florida used another pitching gem to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-0 Wednesday.
“I was going to leave everything out on the field,” the left-hander said. “You want to end the game, but at the same time you want to focus on what you did to get to the ninth inning. You don’t want to overdo anything.”
Willis (2-0) is becoming familiar with the demands of going the distance— he beat Washington with a five-hit shutout last Friday.
His latest performance dropped the Marlins’ team ERA to 1.36, best in the major leagues. They have four complete games, while the other 29 teams combined for two through Tuesday.
Florida concluded a 5-4 homestand, winning series against Washington and Philadelphia. The Marlins have outscored opponents 38-2 in their victories.
On an 87-degree afternoon, Willis threw 114 pitches, 74 for strikes, and hit 93 mph on the radar gun even in the ninth inning. He struck out seven and walked one for his fourth career shutout.
“He had good stuff right to the end,” manager Jack McKeon said. “He was throwing strikes and staying ahead of the hitters, and when he pitches like that, he generally wins.”
Willis retired the first nine batters before Jimmy Rollins lined a 1-2 pitch up the middle for a single. Rollins advanced to third on a pair of groundouts but was stranded when Pat Burrell was called out on strikes.
That was the only Phillies runner to reach third. Burrell, who leads the major leagues with 17 RBIs, singled with two outs in the seventh but also struck out twice. Placido Polanco singled with one out in the ninth for the only other hit off Willis.
“He made it look easy after a while,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. “We knew they had good pitching, but we didn’t realize how sharp they are already.”
The Phillies, who came into the series leading the majors in runs, were shut out over the final 15 innings by Willis and A.J. Burnett.
“You know the old saying—good pitchers get good hitters out,” McKeon said.
Florida’s starters have an ERA of 1.42, the best in baseball, including a combined 33 innings without a run allowed by Willis and Josh Beckett. The rotation has been so good that new closer Guillermo Mota didn’t have a save chance during the nine-game homestand.
“We’re feeding off each other,” Willis said.
Miguel Cabrera hit two sacrifice flies for the Marlins, who handed Cory Lidle his first loss to an NL East team in 13 career decisions. He allowed six hits and three runs, two earned, before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth.
“After the game, for whatever reason it popped into my head that this was my first loss against the NL East,” said Lidle (0-1). “But I found myself going against Willis when he was on. He was going to shut out anybody.”
Third baseman David Bell’s third error of the season helped the Marlins score the only run they needed in the first. Luis Castillo led off with a bunt single—just his second hit in 23 at-bats—and continued to third when Bell’s throw sailed down the right-field line. Cabrera’s fly brought home the unearned run.
Jeff Conine—who has a career average of .567 against Lidle—doubled with two out in the fourth and scored on Easley’s single.
The strong April pitching by the Marlins is reminiscent of last year, when they had four shutouts in the first nine games. That trend didn’t last, and they finished 13 games behind NL East champion Atlanta.
“It’s just the second week,” Willis said. “We’ve got a lot of baseball to go.”
The Marlins are the first team with four complete games in their first nine games since Boston did it in 1992. … Juan Pierre, who led the major leagues with 65 steals in 2003, stole his first base of the year in the fifth. … Bell went 0-for-3 and is 1-for-14 against Willis. … Burrell went 3-for-12 in the series, dropping his average to .405.