During his time in South Florida, Dontrelle Willis brought energy, enthusiasm and stellar pitching.
A two-time All-Star for the Florida Marlins, Willis still holds single-season and career records for the franchise today. He picked up his first Major League Baseball win on this day 20 years ago.
Willis got the start at Qualcomm Stadium as the Marlins took on the San Diego Padres in the rubber game of a three-game series on May 14, 2003. Things started rough for Willis, but the offense came around late in a 10-3 victory.
Brian Buchanan provided the early offense for San Diego with a two-run double in the first and an RBI double in the third. The Padres led 3-0 through three innings, but Willis settled in and the Florida bats came to life.
The Marlins managed to draw even in the top of the fourth. After San Diego’s Mike Bynum issued back-to-back walks to Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Encarnacion, Brian Banks came through a with a three-run home to left field to tie the game.
Willis worked a 1-2-3 fourth before the Marlins again used the long ball for a four-run fifth inning. Bynum started the inning by giving up singles to Juan Pierre and Alex Gonzalez. That was followed with a consecutive home runs from Mike Lowell, a three-run blast, and Derrek Lee, a solo shot. Just like that, Bynum’s night was done and the Marlins led 7-3.
Willis worked around a walk and a wild pitch in the fifth. He ended the inning and his night with a strikeout of Buchanan.
In five innings of work, Willis allowed three runs on five hits and four walks while striking out seven. The Florida bullpen of Tim Spooneybarger, Juan Alvarez and Toby Borland combined to allow just two hits in four shutout innings of relief.
The offense added three runs in the seventh, thanks to RBI triples from Banks and Alex Gonzalez. Pierre added an RBI single during the inning.
Banks (3) and Encarnacion (4) would combine for seven of the 17 hits for the Marlins in the victory. Rodriguez and Willis were the only two Florida starters held without a hit.
The 2003 National League Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, Willis spent five years with the Marlins. He left as the club’s all-time leader in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. He remains the team’s all-time leader in complete games and shutouts. His first big-league victory came on this day two decades ago.