Marlins 3, Phillies 0
His young teammates got a taste on Sunday.
Willis threw a three-hitter and matched a career high with 12 strikeouts in his first shutout of the season, carrying Florida to a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies that split a four-game series between NL wild-card hopefuls.
Willis (10-11) retired his last 13 batters, allowed no runners past second, tied A.J. Burnett for the Marlins’ career record with eight shutouts and passed Burnett as the franchise leader in complete games with 15.
The left-hander threw 80 of his 122 pitches for strikes, walking only one.
“I’ve won big games. I’ve lost big games. I’ve been on both sides of the fence,” said Willis, a rookie when the Marlins won the 2003 World Series. “I don’t feel a lot of pressure. I’ve had a taste of both sides, so I just want to go out there, have fun and do my thing.”
Wes Helms hit two sacrifice flies and Hanley Ramirez had three hits, a stolen base and a run for the Marlins, who jumped on Phillies starter Cole Hamels (7-8) for two first-inning runs and let Willis take over.
Ryan Howard—whose 56 home runs lead the majors—had two singles for the Phillies, taking advantage of Florida’s infield shifts both times. Howard grounded out in the seventh, the first time in 12 plate appearances that he didn’t reach base.
When Willis capped his shutout by striking out Chase Utley for the third time, Howard was on deck.
“He got ahead of us all game long,” Utley said. “When he gets ahead in the count, it works in his advantage. He’s tough. That’s the bottom line. We caught him on a pretty good day.”
The Marlins and Phillies, both 72-71, are now 2 1/2 games behind NL wild-card leader San Diego, which beat San Francisco 10-2 on Sunday night. The Giants also trail the Padres by 2 1/2 games.
Philadelphia’s loss cut the New York Mets’ magic number for clinching the NL East title to four. The Mets come to Florida for a three-game series starting Monday, when Marlins rookie Anibal Sanchez will make his first start since throwing a no-hitter against Arizona last week.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Florida manager Joe Girardi said.
Willis left his start against Arizona last week after six innings because of dehydration, but stayed cool the whole way on Sunday.
“He saved his best game for a real important time,” Girardi said.
Hamels threw strikes on his first three pitches of the afternoon, yet things unraveled quickly from there. He needed 34 pitches just to escape the first inning, after Miguel Cabrera knocked Ramirez in with a single and Helms brought Dan Uggla home two batters later with a sacrifice fly to center.
Hamels gave up two runs, six hits and five walks in four innings for the Phillies, who play Florida six more times in the season’s final 19 games.
“I guess a split is better than going 1-3,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
The Marlins stranded eight runners against Hamels—with cleanup hitter Josh Willingham leaving the bases loaded twice. He ended the second by grounding out on a checked swing, then struck out to end another Florida chance in the fourth.
But with the way Willis was rolling, it didn’t matter. The crowd of 20,308 cheered when Girardi let his pitcher bat in the eighth inning, giving him a chance to finish the game.
“I play once a week,” Willis said. “I wanted to be out there.”
Phillies reliever Arthur Rhodes will undergo an MRI on his left shoulder sometime in the next couple of days, but Manuel said Rhodes’ season is probably over. … It was the fourth time Willis has struck out 10 or more. … The Marlins will wear special caps Monday, part of a series of tributes planned around baseball to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. … Philadelphia is 18-8 on Sundays.