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Cubs take Marlins to the brink
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10/11/2003  7:47 PM ET 
Cubs take Marlins to the brink
Willis roughed up as Florida goes down, 3-1, in NLCS
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com

Jack McKeon (right) talks to Dontrelle Willis after he was pulled in the third. (David J. Phillip/AP)
  • Game 4 wrapup: Cubs 8, Marlins 3
  • Postgame notes

    MIAMI -- So often Marlins rookie Dontrelle Willis bailed his team out when backed to the wall.

    Saturday night the D-Train was knocked off track.

    Aramis Ramirez smacked a first inning grand slam, added a second homer and drove in six runs as the Cubs blew past the Marlins, 8-3, before a League Championship Series record crowd of 65,829 at energized Pro Player Stadium.

    Willis, who went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA in the regular season, never could get going. Control problems in the first inning set up Ramirez's first-inning slam.

    After grabbing a 4-0 lead in the first, the tempo was set for the Cubs to take a commanding 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven NLCS.

    Standup as he has been since being called up after six Double-A starts on May 9, Willis took the blame.

    "Tonight, I'm the goat," said the left-hander who has captured so much national attention with his high-energy style and quirky delivery. "That's baseball. ... I feel responsible with this thing falling apart."

    The Marlins, who have lost three straight, try to stave off elimination Sunday with Josh Beckett facing Carlos Zambrano in Game 5.


    "It's either nerves or they are amped up. They are either hyped up or strong. They are trying to hit that spot, or trying too hard to hit that spot."
    -- pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal

    Coming off a disheartening 11th-inning, 5-4 loss Friday, the Marlins were dealt a bigger blow in Game 4.

    "Our problem has been our starting pitchers," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "We haven't been getting mileage out of them. We're down, 4-0, every night. Bases on balls. We talked about that again. I think five of the eight runs were scored on bases on balls. You can't have that if you're going to win."

    Saturday featured Willis against former Marlin, Matt Clement. Ironically, the two were traded for each other four days before the 2002 season.

    Given early run support, Clement got the better of the rookie.

    Willis, who was 7-3 (3.05 ERA) at home during the regular season, was lifted after 2 1/3 innings, giving up six runs on three hits with five walks and two strikeouts.

    "I wasn't able to throw strikes," said Willis, an All-Star in his first season. "Maybe I was a little too excited. You can't pitch to any team like that. Walking five guys."

    Clement gave up three runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings.

    Florida mounted little offensively, getting two runs in the fifth on Alex Gonzalez's RBI ground out and Todd Hollandsworth's pinch-hit, run-scoring single.

    In the eighth, Ivan Rodriguez's RBI double off Kyle Farnsworth was charged to Clement.

    For the fourth straight game, the Cubs jumped on the Marlins in the first frame.

    Ramirez's blast, the seventh grand slam in NLCS history, gave the Cubs a 4-0 lead. Willis dug himself into a deep hole by walking the bases loaded with one out. Ramirez turned on a 2-2 fastball and deposited a 385-foot homer near the left-field foul pole.

    Willis struggled to find the plate, walking Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou, setting the stage for the first NLCS grand slam since Andres Galarraga connected for the Braves on Oct. 11, 1998.

    In all, Willis threw 37 pitches in the inning.

        Dontrelle Willis   /   P
    Height: 6'4"
    Weight: 200
    Bats/Throws: L/L

    More info:
    Player page
    Stats
    Splits
    Marlins site

    "It's either nerves or they are amped up," Marlins pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal says of the Marlins' first-inning woes. "They are either hyped up or strong. They are trying to hit that spot, or trying too hard to hit that spot."

    Setting the tone early has been the trend for the Cubs, who have outscored the Marlins, 11-0, in the first inning. Chicago has added nine hits (four singles, one double, two triples and two homers) and six walks.

    "There is no answer for it," Rosenthal says. "Yeah, I'm surprised by it. It's uneasy to me. The last couple of nights I've lost some sleep."

    Before Willis took the mound, Rosenthal said Willis threw well warming up in the bullpen. He tossed a few extra pitches, and the two shared a light-hearted laugh on the atmosphere in the packed house.

    In the game, it was a different story.

    While Willis was throwing sliders and curves effectively in the bullpen, he relied heavily on fastballs to his first few batters.

    "I couldn't find the plate," Willis said.

    When he did, Ramirez delivered the crushing early blow.

    After the rough first, Willis retired the Cubs in order in the second. But the 21-year-old was knocked from the game after one out in the third.

    With one out, Sosa walked and Alou singled through short. Once again, Willis had a showdown with Ramirez. In an 11-pitch at-bat, the Cubs third baseman bounced an RBI single to right.

    Willis was relieved after he walked Eric Karros, loading the bases. In relief, Rick Helling gave up an RBI single to Alex Gonzalez, giving the Cubs a 6-0 lead.

    The lead swelled to seven when Alou placed an RBI single in front of rookie Miguel Cabrera, who made his first Major League start in right field. Lofton, who walked, scored for the seventh time in the postseason. That tied a Cubs record set by Phil Cavarretta in the 1945 World Series.

    Ramirez's second homer, a solo shot, came in the seventh off Nate Bump.

    The Cubs' ability to add on, thwarted any potential Marlins' comeback.

    "They didn't let us get our momentum going," said Derrek Lee, who was 0-for-3. "Inning by inning, they kept shutting us down."

    Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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