Before Thursday night’s game at New York, Florida Manager Jack McKeon looked around the locker room at his available batters and decided the best option for the Marlin lineup was to have pitcher Dontrelle Willis bat seventh.
It was more important to have Willis on the mound.
The left-hander with the corkscrew windup and delivery won his major league-leading 22nd game and kept Florida’s National League wild-card hopes alive, giving up five hits over eight innings in a 2-1 victory over the New York Mets.
It was a victory the Marlins had to have after they lost the first two games of this series. Florida remained four games behind Houston and two behind Philadelphia in the wild-card race.
Willis (22-9) will pitch two of the team’s final nine games. There’s no telling where McKeon will have him hit, though, with three regulars injured and September callups Joe Dillon and Robert Andino, who batted eighth and ninth Thursday, filling in at second base and shortstop.
“I hit him seventh because he’s a pretty good hitter,” McKeon said. “He’s got more RBIs than the two guys behind him.”
Willis had one hit in four at-bats, raising his season average at .250.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last pitcher to bat seventh or higher was Montreal’s Steve Renko, who did it on Aug. 26, 1973, and went two for three against San Diego.
Colorado 4, San Diego 2 -- Aaron Cook took a shutout into the ninth inning at Denver, Todd Helton hit a two-run homer and the Rockies beat the Padres, dropping the West leaders back to .500.
The Padres (76-76) lost for the second time in three days to the last-place Rockies.
Washington 2, San Francisco 0 -- With little to play for other than finishing above .500, the host Nationals used a lineup of rookies and reserves and managed to beat the Giants, who rested Barry Bonds and missed a chance to gain ground on the Padres.
The Giants’ five-game winning streak ended, and they remained five games behind San Diego.
Houston 2, Pittsburgh 1 -- Brandon Backe (10-8) made his second successive strong start and the Astros held their lead in the wild-card race, beating the Pirates at Pittsburgh for their eighth victory in nine games.
The Astros lead Philadelphia by two games in the race for the fourth playoff spot.
Philadelphia 4, Atlanta 0 -- Jon Lieber pitched eight scoreless innings at Atlanta and the Phillies scored four runs off Tim Hudson (13-9) in the ninth to defeat the Braves.
Chicago 3, Milwaukee 0 -- Greg Maddux (13-13) kept up his bid for another season with 15 victories, pitching the Cubs to a victory at Milwaukee. Maddux has posted at least 15 victories in a record 17 seasons.
Cincinnati 6, St. Louis 2 -- Edwin Encarnacion’s bases-loaded double completed a five-run rally in the eighth inning for the Reds at Cincinnati. The Cardinals clinched home-field advantage throughout the league playoffs when Atlanta lost earlier.