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Middle Relief Is No Big Stretch for Marlins' Willis

October 19, 2003|Bill Plaschke and Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Attempting to stop World Series bleeding with a pitcher who has a 12.00 postseason ERA is not always considered a good idea.

But then again, the Florida Marlins' Dontrelle Willis has never done the expected, and so nobody should have been surprised Saturday when he stifled the New York Yankees on two hits in 2 1/3 scoreless innings of middle relief in the Marlins' 3-2 victory in Game 1.

"[You] wanted to send him down the river," Marlin Manager Jack McKeon said to the media. "But he's done a decent job for us all along. He looked like the Willis of old tonight."

Indeed, Willis, a rookie All-Star known earlier in the season for his funky delivery, was all business by pitching strictly from the stretch. And it worked, helping his control as he worked out of a sixth-inning jam in which he inherited a runner on first and one out. He retired seven consecutive Yankees before allowing consecutive singles and leaving the game in the eighth.

"I'm just going out there, just throwing the ball ... I don't think it's that deep into detail," he said. "I'm just trying to go out there and just have fun."

But considering Willis is the Marlins' only competent left-hander who can work out of the bullpen, it's more than just fun. If he can maintain his composure and control against the left-handed hitting likes of Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Nick Johnson and Karim Garcia, it would give the Marlins an important edge.


There were laughs galore behind the batting cage when comedians Billy Crystal and Robin Williams cracked jokes with Yankee Manager Joe Torre. While Crystal is a devoted Yankee fan, Williams is a San Francisco Giant season-ticket holder, with a few memories of last year's World Series at Edison Field.

"Besides the miniature golf course in center field, it was nice," he said. "But five minutes of the rally monkey? That was way beyond a commercial break. And there was a deaf child going, 'Please don't use those thunder sticks any more.' "

Williams isn't above taking a jab at the Giants' Pacific Bell (soon to be SBC) Park.

"It's nice when you have a latte section," he said.

He poked fun at the Marlins, whose games were sparsely attended for most of the season.

"They come for the buffet -- 10,000 people -- and when the chicken is done in the fourth inning, they go home," he said.


The Yankees' $120-million man, Jason Giambi, batted seventh again, even after hitting two home runs in Game 7 of the American League championship series. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, he hit .238, with 12 strikeouts in 42 at-bats and he was 0 for 3 Saturday.

"It doesn't matter how much money you make or how many home runs you hit," Torre said. "We have one purpose here, and that's to win games best we can."


Torre said Andy Pettitte will start for the Yankees tonight, followed by Mike Mussina in Game 3 and Roger Clemens in Game 4. Clemens plans to retire, so his final start will come in Pro Player Stadium.


Florida's Miguel Cabrera is 20, an age at which teammate Jeff Conine had yet to become a pro -- or a hitter, for that matter. "I was pitching at UCLA," he said. "This guy is playing in the World Series."

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