Seeking his 23rd victory, Willis instead gave up a career-high nine runs— four unearned—to the Washington Nationals, who beat reeling Florida 11-1 on Tuesday night.
“I didn’t do anything right,” Willis said. “It’s a terrible feeling.”
The Marlins were mathematically eliminated from the wild-card race and fell into a tie with Washington for last place in the NL East.
“It’s unfortunate, because I think as a team we’ve underachieved,” Willis said.
Marlon Byrd homered, scored four times and tied a career high with four hits, including three off Willis (22-10). The Marlins committed three errors behind their ace, who trotted off the mound and out of the game after the first three batters reached in the fifth.
The dismal display was the latest in a series by the injury-plagued Marlins, whose turbulent September has included the banishment of pitcher A.J. Burnett and hints by manager Jack McKeon that he won’t return in 2006. Florida held a one-game lead in the NL wild-card race on Sept. 14 and has since lost 11 of 13 games, including the past five in a row, a season high.
“It’s tough when your hopes and expectations are high and it doesn’t happen,” McKeon said.
Willis hurt his bid for the Cy Young Award by giving up nine runs and three walks, and his ERA rose to 2.59. He had little help: Florida’s errors all came in the first three innings, helping the Nationals score six runs, four unearned.
Willis declined to blame his defense—or the distraction of the Cy Young race.
“I definitely wasn’t thinking about that going out there,” he said. “It wasn’t any added pressure. Bottom line is I didn’t get it done.”
Nationals manager Frank Robinson said he still thinks Willis deserves the award.
“I said it before the game; I’ll say it after,” Robinson said. “He’s a tough customer.”
Willis is scheduled to get one more shot at win No. 23 in the final game of the season Sunday against Atlanta.
Jamey Carroll drove in three runs in the Nationals’ most lopsided win this year. They had 15 hits and left 13 men on base.
Mike Stanton (2-1) pitched two shutout innings for the win. Jon Rauch, making his first start of the year after recovering from a torn labrum, threw three scoreless innings and drove in the first run.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve re-established myself,” Rauch said. “I’m still not the same. I’ve got to get myself back in shape for spring training.”
With both teams playing out the string, there was no sign of D-Train mania in the stands. The small crowd was so quiet that fans in the club seats behind home plate could hear Byrd’s two doubles off Willis slam against the scoreboard.
Willis was one strike from getting out of the second inning with the game scoreless, but he walked .211 hitter Gary Bennett on a 3-2 pitch with two outs to put runners at first and third.
That was as many runs as Willis gave up in 21 innings over three previous starts this year against Washington.
“It’ll be good to go into the winter saying we got to him,” Robinson said. “It’s nice to beat him.”
Willis batted eighth—the third time he has hit higher than ninth— and singled and walked, hiking his average to .258. … Byrd improved his average against left-handers to .322. … With the Marlins out of the playoff race, RHP Josh Beckett won’t pitch again this season, McKeon said. Beckett has been bothered by shoulder tendinitis.