Bucs fail to sweep Marlins
The way Dontrelle Willis has pitched this season, a team is fortunate to get one crack at beating the Florida Marlins’ 23-year-old phenom.
The Pirates had their chance in the eighth inning Thursday night, and one swing of the bat worked against them in a 6-3 loss that snapped their three-game winning streak.
Trailing by four runs, the Pirates scored once and had the bases loaded with two outs.
Willis, after issuing back-to-back walks to force in that run, clearly was teetering, and his major league-leading ninth victory suddenly was in jeopardy.
Michael Restovich, however, helped Willis’ cause by popping the first pitch he saw to short. Alex Gonzalez gloved the ball, the threat was averted and the Marlins were en route to breaking their nine-game losing streak at PNC Park.
Restovich realized the situation called for working the count. For seeing if Willis could find the plate after he had walked Jose Castillo on five pitches. But Restovich also had the green light to swing.
“If he came in with a fastball, I told myself, ‘It’s got to be there or nothing,'” Restovich said. “He threw it there, and I just missed it.”
It was the story of the night for the Pirates, who had nine hits and two walks in Willis’ eight innings, but could only muster three runs.
“In hindsight, second-guessing, yeah,” manager Lloyd McClendon said when asked whether Restovich should have taken the first pitch. “But the fact is he got a ball right down the middle of the plate. He just didn’t get on top of it.”
Despite his quirky leg kick and deceiving arsenal of pitches, Willis didn’t overpower the Pirates while improving his record to 9-2. His three strikeouts tied for his fewest in a start this season, and he had only one perfect inning. It also was just the third time an opponent scored three runs against him.
Willis was much more effective with the bat, hitting a crucial RBI single in the sixth inning, then adding a double and scoring a run in the eighth.
After giving up solo homers in the first and second innings, Pirates starter Dave Williams (5-5) was trailing just 2-1 in the sixth. It looked like the margin might stay that way when he quickly retired the first two batters.
But Damion Easley doubled to left, and the decision was made to intentionally walk Gonzalez. That pitted Williams against the left-handed hitting Willis.
Willis, one of the game’s better hitting pitchers, sprayed a single into right field that scored Easley.
It got worse.
Luis Castillo followed with a single to left that brought in Gonzalez for a 4-1 lead that would come in handy later.
McClendon realized what was at stake when he ordered the intentional walk.
“Willis is a complete athlete,” he said. “He certainly swings the bat with authority. He knows what he’s doing.”
Williams, though, was less complimentary of his mound opponent.
“He’s not Tony Gwynn,” he said. “But he definitely can hit for a pitcher.”
Williams was just as upset about the solo homers he served up to Carlos Delgado in the first and Easley in the second. It matched the number of homers he had allowed in his previous five starts and was the first time since April 24 he gave up two in a game.
“I let the team down early with those two homers,” he said.
Restovich also was willing to take his share of the blame.
“We fought back to get in a position to win,” he said. “I’d like to have come through.”