Willis calm amid playoff chaos

Heading into biggest game of his life, Marlins pitcher is taking it all in stride

NLCS notebook

October 11, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - The 2003 season just keeps getting sweeter for Florida Marlins rookie pitcher Dontrelle Willis, who will take the mound in Game 4 tonight against Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Clement.

Willis pitched well and had three hits in the decisive game of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, building on an impressive season that made him one of the top candidates for NL Rookie of the Year.

It has been quite a ride - and a crowd of 60,000 will be there for the next mile - but Willis doesn't seem all that impressed with himself as he prepares for the biggest game of his life.

"I just go out and pitch, whether it's 5,000 [fans] or 65,000," Willis said yesterday. "You have a job to do, and it's your job to get the big league hitters out. It's fun to see people come out and support your team. But you always that it's for us, not just for one guy. It's for the team. They're coming to see the Marlins, not the name on the bat."

Tonight's game will be a referendum on the 2002 spring training deal in which the Cubs sent Willis and three other players to the Marlins for Clement and reliever Antonio Alfonseca.

"The trade was kind of weird how it happened," Willis remembered. "It was four days before spring training broke. ... My first thought was just, `Why me? What did I do wrong?' But that was just me being naive to the system. It's a business as well as it is a game. Unfortunately, I had to part with the team I was drafted with, but it played out well. I'm happy to be a Marlin, and hopefully I'm a Marlin for a long time."

Being the other guy

Clement said yesterday that he doesn't mind working in the shadows of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, even though he won as many games (14) as Wood this year.

"There's a couple of ways to look at it," he said. "First off, I don't pitch for ... media praise. I pitch for my team and my family and myself. If I'm praised or the paper has it a certain way, whatever else, that's great. But I guess when you're under the radar you can kind of lay in the weeds and sneak up on people a different way.

"All four of us have done a pretty good job this year. Obviously, when every playoff game you've won is by Wood or Prior, they deserve the accolades."

Alou's quick turnaround

The Cubs' Moises Alou flew home to the Dominican Republic on Thursday to attend his son's birthday party and visit his ailing grandmother, returning well in time for last night's game.

If it is unusual for a player to break away from the team for a potentially fatiguing overnight trip, Cubs manager Dusty Baker was unconcerned.

"To me family comes before anybody," Baker said. "Plus Mo, at this stage of his career knows himself better than anybody."

Huizenga has a double

Former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga told the Herald that he is, indeed, still a Marlins fan, still fending off a Chicago Tribune report that he was spotted in the stands at Wrigley Field earlier this week and told a reporter that he was rooting for the Cubs.

"I am a Marlins fan. I will always be a Marlins fan," Huizenga said. "I'm rooting for the Marlins as hard as anyone can, and I'll always be a big fan."

Huizenga says he was not even in Chicago and never made the statements attributed to him. The Tribune retracted the item and apologized to Huizenga.

Santo surgery may wait

Cubs broadcaster and former third baseman Ron Santo said surgery on his bladder could be postponed by as much as a month.

After undergoing a stress test yesterday in Arizona, Santo said his doctors had some concern over a couple of his arteries. He had a coronary bypass procedure in 2000.

Santo said he will undergo an angiogram and that doctors should know more Monday.

Surgery for Womack

Cubs infielder Tony Womack underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow earlier this week, leaving no doubt that he'll miss the World Series even if Chicago makes it that far.

"He gutted it out as long as he could," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.

Womack had the reconstructive surgery Monday in Cincinnati. He plans to rejoin the Cubs next week in Chicago.

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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