10/12/2003 1:00 AM ET
D-Train derailed in Game 4
'I left everything on the field. It just wasn't enough.'
MIAMI -- Dontrelle Willis lost. But he wasn't beaten.
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
There is a difference you know. Losing is something that happens to someone whenever two sides meet. Getting beaten is letting it get you down into despondency.
That's not our Dontrelle.
After Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, an 8-3 Cubs victory that was sealed on Willis' 24th pitch, the media found the young left-hander waiting in front of his locker.
That 24th pitch had been struck for a grand slam by Aramis Ramirez, scoring three runners Willis had walked.
So, Dontrelle, where was that pitch?
"It was out of the park."
He said that with a wide smile, understanding the question but also understanding that any game, even one that leaves your season one game from the end, is still just a game.
"I was having fun. Not as much fun as I wanted to have," he said, "but it's still baseball, nothing life-threatening. I just couldn't get it done tonight."
No, not this night. In 2 1/3 innings, Willis allowed six runs. Four of those resulted from the five walks he issued -- a career-high.
But his philosophical acceptance also reflected the comfort of a young 21-year-old who knows he had been getting it done all season.
Even Mike Lowell, who had picked the wrong time to return to the Marlins' hot corner and decried the four-run spot given Chicago, had to give Willis his due.
"Walks killed us today. You can't let them score four runs on one hit," Lowell said. "That hurts.
"Usually, Dontrelle doesn't walk that many. That's not part of his game. But," Lowell quickly added, "he's done a pretty good job for us all year."
Willis is a major reason they're all here, despite his
concession that undue credit makes him "semi-frustrated."
Before Mother's Day, he came out of the shadows of the deep minors to energize an entire franchise. For five months, countless fans and 24 teammates hopped on the D-Train for a joyride into the postseason.
Time and again, the Marlins looked to the spirited 21-year-old left-hander to make them believe, then to keep them believing, and they were seldom disappointed.
Willis high-kicked to 14 wins during his 4 1/2-month rookie season. When he won the first, this was a sleeping Florida team with a 19-23 record. The last gave Florida its 91st win and the playoffs.
The Marlins would not be in the NLCS without Willis, who in going into Saturday night's Game 4 with the intent of knotting this series made only one mistake.
He showed up as jacked as he usually leaves the fans. Not a good condition for the mound, turning the rubber into a high-wire.
Dontrelle simply lost his footing Saturday night.
He began by walking leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton on a full-count pitch. With one out, he walked both Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou on eight straight pitches.
"Maybe I was a little too excited," Willis conceded. "But that's baseball. You can't pitch any team like that, especially a team with the great lineup of the Cubs.
"I couldn't tell you what the problem was. I just wasn't throwing in the zone."
He soon had a bigger problem. On a 2-2 pitch, Ramirez sent an arching drive into the left-field corner. It remained fair by ...
"Not by much," Willis said. "Baseball is a funny game. If it goes foul, he might hit the next pitch 500 feet, you never know. Or if I'm able to get him out, it's a totally different game.
"But he was able to put a good swing on one."
All night, mostly against Matt Clement, the Marlins couldn't overcome that one good swing.
"I just didn't have it. No ands, ifs or buts about it," Dontrelle came clean. "I was wild enough. Doesn't matter if I'm missing by inches or by a foot.
"If I'm a little less excited, maybe I throw better. I hope to learn from the experience and next time I'm in this situation, I hope to pitch better."
For perhaps the first time this entire meteoric season, Willis looked like a youngster requiring adult supervision. Alternately during his harrowing stint, catcher Ivan Rodriguez, pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal and even manager Jack McKeon visited him on the mound.
"I wasn't able to throw strikes, and it was upsetting me. I didn't want to get to a point where I was trying too hard," said Willis, setting up the visit by McKeon, who is seldom seen near a mound.
"He just told me to get the ball in the zone."
After that first inning, Rodriguez, with an arm around his shoulder, told him, "Keep your head up."
"Everybody wants to pitch well and go nine innings," said Willis. "Unfortunately, there has to be a loser.
"I was very excited. No butterflies, just excited. I wanted to throw the ball well, just didn't have it. You have to tip your cap to the opposing team, because they did, they capitalized on their chances."
McKeon showed the agitation of a manager in a 1-3 hole, unsettled by the sight of all those walks. He sounded a lot less forgiving of Willis than his teammates.
"That's been his problem since the All-Star Game," said McKeon, "bases on balls and getting behind on hitters. When he was 9-1, he succeeded by staying ahead and challenging hitters.
"Since, he hasn't been as successful as he was in the first half."
Willis shrugged lightly, welcoming another wave of media to his locker.
"I left everything on the field. It just wasn't enough."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.