Phils baffled by Marlins' Willis in finale

Phils baffled by Marlins' Willis in finale

MIAMI -- A day after squandering many chances, the Phillies had few chances to squander on Sunday.

A stingy Dontrelle Willis guaranteed that in a dominating three-hit, 12-strikeout performance at Dolphin Stadium, leading the Marlins to a 3-0 win and sending the Phillies to Atlanta with a disappointing split of a four-game series.

"We ran into a buzz saw," said Jeff Conine, who was on the other side of a Willis masterpiece for the first time. "He knew what he had to do and he did it."

The game wasn't as close as the score indicated. From striking out his good friend Jimmy Rollins to start the game to fanning a flailing Chase Utley to close it out, Willis was rarely challenged. He hopped off the mound and pumped his fist after the final out, looking as crisp and as sharp as ever.

So much for "derailing the D-Train," as manager Charlie Manuel predicted, and continuing a bad stretch for Willis. The lefty entered his outing having gone 0-4 with an 8.88 ERA in his previous four starts against the Phillies.

"His command was way better," Manuel said.

"When he throws strikes at the knees from 72 to 92 [mph], he's tough," Rollins said. "He does a great job hiding the ball. It's been said that it's tough to pick up the ball, but it's even tougher when he's throwing strikes at the knees, because you don't see it for longer. When he's hiding the ball out in left field somewhere, and then whips and throws strikes down, the ball never gets to a hitting zone."

One of the few veterans on a rookie-laden team, Willis got all the run support he would need in the first inning against Cole Hamels (7-8). The rookie allowed the first four batters to reach. Two scored -- one on a Miguel Cabrera single and one on a Wes Helms' sacrifice fly. The Marlins added a third run in the seventh on another Helms sacrifice fly.

Hamels was off his game in a 90-pitch, four-inning effort, and walked an uncharacteristic five batters.

"I wasn't myself, and [the media] saw the outcome," Hamels said. "I didn't get beat. I beat myself. I didn't focus like I normally do. I definitely didn't fight through it like I could."

Hamels cited the 89-degree weather as a partial factor, while Manuel thought Hamels was more hopped up because of the game's importance. Either way, Hamels couldn't rediscover the brilliance from an eight-start stretch in which he went 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA.

His efforts resulted in the Phillies settling for a split.

"It's like kissing your sister," said Manuel, who before the series conceded that a split wasn't going to be enough. "It's a tie. [Saturday] night was the game we definitely could have won, but I guess a split is better than going 1-3."

While mathematically true, that doesn't make it satisfactory to the Phils.

"It's frustrating," Hamels said. "When you come in an important series and you win the first two, you expect to go and sweep them."

Making the split worse for Philadelphia was a feeling that the Phillies had the series well in hand after capturing the first two games of the series from Florida starters Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen. In those games, Ryan Howard slugged three homers.

The Marlins kept Howard in the park Saturday and Sunday. Still, Howard reached base in 15 of 19 plate appearances, including 11 straight at one point. When pitched to, the All-Star slugger went 9-for-13 with three homers, a double and six walks.

"You try to salvage what you can," Howard said, regarding the split. "We're still right there."

Florida and Philadelphia, along with San Francisco, sit 2 1/2 games behind San Diego with 19 games to play.

"We're behind and we have to play some really good baseball down the stretch to get there," said Conine, who recalls a similar experience in 2003 with the Marlins, who went on to win the World Series. "[Saturday] night was a missed opportunity, no question. Today, we couldn't do anything."

Tempering the disappointment of the weekend, catcher Chris Coste referred to more painful losses from earlier in the season.

"If we're disappointed about splitting this series, we should be real disappointed about two months ago," Coste said. "Two months ago, we were giving away five games a week. That was frustrating. On the bright side, we're still in the race because of the way the other teams have been playing."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.