Phillies 10, Marlins 2
Just before the start of the ninth inning, gleeful Florida Marlins fans hovered over the home dugout, bouncing on their toes, eager for pitcher Dontrelle Willis to emerge so they could provide him with his fourth standing ovation of the afternoon. Serenaded by cheers as he took the mound, Willis stood three outs from his 22nd victory and sixth shutout. Three outs from pulling the Marlins into the center of the National League wild-card race.
Willis's mastery, however, soon disintegrated into high comedy. Three batters into the ninth, Willis found himself with a seat in the dugout and a towel over his head. Six batters into the inning, boos rained from the crowd of 27,203 at Dolphins Stadium.
There were still no outs.
And the Phillies were just getting warmed up.
In Saturday's improbable 10-2 loss to Philadelphia, the Marlins booted, misjudged, overthrew, imprecisely pitched and thoroughly botched a seemingly secure victory. The Phillies happily took advantage, sending 14 men to the plate in the 10-run ninth as they remained a half-game behind the Houston Astros in the wild-card standings.
"I've never seen anything like that," said Phillies catcher Todd Pratt, in his 11th major league season. "You just sit down and go, 'This is unbelievable that this is happening.' "
The Marlins' meltdown came after 21/2 hours of solid baseball and at a time of year when carelessness of any sort can cost dearly. By the end of the 29-minute half-inning, Florida had trotted out three relievers and committed four errors. Most painfully, it also fell 21/2 games back in the wild-card standings.
"We just didn't do anything right," Marlins Manager Jack McKeon said. "We just gave it away."
It all started with a seemingly harmless chop single from Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who managed to extend his league-leading consecutive games hit streak to 23 with the bouncer over third base. Willis (21-9), who struck out seven and had given up no walks to that point, then walked Jason Michaels. The next batter, Bobby Abreu, hit a hard ground ball that second baseman Luis Castillo mishandled for an error, allowing the Phillies' first run to score.
With two men on, McKeon reluctantly yanked Willis -- who received another standing ovation -- and called upon closer Todd Jones, who has a 1.64 ERA and hadn't blown a save in more than two months.
Center fielder Juan Pierre then misjudged a high fly ball hit by Pat Burrell, which drove in the second run. Jones followed that by fielding a bunt by Chase Utley and throwing it over the head of his first baseman. That gave the Phillies the lead.
Then came another pop fly to short center field -- this one Castillo couldn't run down. There was a line drive to center. A ground ball between the legs of first baseman Jeff Conine. There were a couple more singles, a throwing error by Pierre; it was difficult to keep track.
"I just couldn't believe it," Burrell said. "It was 5-2, then 6-2, then 8-2. The rally just kept going."
After the game, Castillo sat with his head in his hands in front of his locker, as team executive Tony Perez patted him on the back and tried to offer words of consolation. Players dressed silently. Conine walked around with a furrowed brow. Nobody turned on the televisions. The Marlins, hoping to regain the magic of their 2003 championship season, instead were on the verge of being swept by the very team they beat to the wild card that year.
"Just to see the wheels fall off, it's a tough one to swallow, especially this time of year," Pierre said. "This is one to think about. It's a crucial game and we put forth an effort like that."
Televisions blared in the Phillies' clubhouse and bottles of Bud Light and El Presidente made their way around. Players pretended to argue about silly things, shouting happy profanities across the locker room. The atmosphere reflected the satisfaction of the day's effort; this, after all, is a big run for a team that's collapsed down the stretch for the last two seasons.
"Maybe," Pratt said, "it's our turn to get it this year."