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Dontrelle mania to hit All-Star Game
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07/11/2003  7:39 PM ET 
Dontrelle-mania to hit All-Star game
Willis named to All-Star game to replace Brown
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Twenty-one-year old Dontrelle Willis joins Hideki Matsui as the only rookies in the 2003 All-Star Game. (AP)
MIAMI -- Just one look was all it took for National League All-Star manager Dusty Baker to have a change of heart regarding Marlins rookie sensation Dontrelle Willis.

Willis, the 21-year-old left-handed wonder, was added to the National League All-Star squad Friday as a replacement to injured Dodgers right-hander Kevin Brown.

Willis becomes only the 41st rookie pitcher ever chosen for an All-Star Team, reverting to the 1933 birth of the Midsummer Classic, and the 107th rookie.

The promising Willis joins third baseman Mike Lowell as the two Marlins representatives in Tuesday's 74th All-Star game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Initially, Baker passed over Willis partly because he had not seen the rookie pitch.

That changed on Tuesday when Willis made a strong first impression, throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings against Baker's Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Willis struck out seven and was not involved in the decision in a game that was delayed by rain. When play resumed, the Marlins pulled out a 4-3 victory over the Cubs.

While Willis wasn't credited with the win, he turned in yet another outstanding performance.

The left-hander, who started the season in Double-A Carolina, is 8-1 with a 1.98 ERA. Called up from the Mudcats on May 9 because right-hander Josh Beckett went on the disabled list, Willis has become an immediate sensation.

With his high leg kick and herky-jerky delivery, the Alameda, Calif., native has drawn comparisons to Vida Blue, Luis Tiant and Fernando Valenzuela.

In his brief Major League career, he has quickly made a name for himself, one-hitting the Mets on June 16.

In June, he was a co-winner of National League Player of the Week. He also was named NL Pitcher and Rookie of the month, posting a 5-0 record with a 1.04 ERA. He had a string of winning seven straight decisions, compiling an 0.91 ERA.

Willis becomes the second rookie in Marlins history to be picked to the All-Star Game. In 1999, then-rookie shortstop Alex Gonzalez was a reserve.

The 21-year-old is nicknamed the "D-Train" and his popularity has steamrolled along.

Drafted in the eighth round by the Cubs in 2000, he signed for $200,000. Now, after just six starts at Double-A (he was 4-0), he is becoming a lightning rod for the Marlins' organization.

In his last start at Pro Player Stadium, against the Braves on July 2, the Marlins drew their second-largest crowd of the season -- 30,378.

TV ratings on Fox Sports Net Florida have been among their highest for Marlins games in years whenever the left-hander, who grew up cheering for the A's, pitches.

His July 2 start drew ratings that rivaled Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, when the Marlins defeated the Indians for their lone championship.

Willis jerseys are selling briskly at the team's merchandise shops at Pro Player Stadium.

Willis was dealt to the Marlins from Chicago prior to the 2002 season opener in a trade that sent Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca to Chicago for Julian Tavarez, Willis and two other minor league prospects.

In the Marlins minor league system last year, Willis combined for a 12-2 record with a 1.83 ERA in stints with low Class-A Kane County and Class-A Jupiter.

He was 4-0 with the Carolina Mudcats before being called up.

Willis will start for the Marlins on Sunday at Montreal, meaning he would be available for about one inning of relief should he pitch in the All-Star Game.

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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