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Updated: Tuesday, July 8, 2003 9:06 PM EDT
MLB RECAP
Florida Marlins
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
R H E
4 13 0
Chicago Cubs
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
R H E
3 7 1
W Bump (2-0)
L Remlinger (5-3)
S Looper (16)
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FLORIDA 4, CHICAGO CUBS 3
 

CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Dontrelle Willis and Dusty Baker kept their strings alive: Willis with another dominating outing and Baker by making another insensitive comment.

After rain forced Willis to the sidelines, Ivan Rodriguez had a solo homer and RBI single to lead the Florida Marlins to a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs .

A rookie sensation who used to be Chicago's property, Willis dueled Carlos Zambrano over 5 2/3 scoreless innings before torrential rain forced an 84-minute delay. He impressed just about everyone, especially Cubs superstar Sammy Sosa .

Meeting the 21-year-old lefthander for the first time, Sosa struck out twice and doubled in three-at-bats. He also homered in the eighth and popped up against Braden Looper to end the game.

"He pitched me great," Sosa said of Willis, who was acquired from Chicago last year for righthanders Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca . "He was hard to pick up."

"It was exciting to pitch against him," Willis said. "I mean, pitching against him takes you to another level. Let's face it, that's the man. Sammy's the guy. I was just fortunate to make some good pitches against him."

Willis didn't return to get the Marlins out of a jam in the sixth, having totaled 106 pitches. The hard-throwing lefthander didn't factor in the decision but walked only two, struck out seven and lowered his ERA to 1.98.

After winning seven consecutive starts, Willis has not factored in the decision in his last two. Partly because he will qualify for the ERA lead after his next start, many think he deserves to be on the National League All-Star team.

"Sure, I'd like to go, but I don't blame anybody or point any fingers at anyone," said Willis, who could be added as an injury replacement. "Hopefully, I'll have a chance to pitch some other time."

Baker, the Cubs' manager, picks the reserves after guiding San Francisco to the NL title last year. Ironically, his wife and Willis' mother are close friends.

Luis Castillo and Rodriguez opened the scoring in the seventh with back-to-back homers off Mike Remlinger (5-3). Juan Pierre and Rodriguez added RBI singles off Alfonseca in the eighth for a 4-0 lead.

The Cubs nearly rallied in the ninth against Looper but fell to 8-15 over their last 23 games. Ten of those losses have been by two runs or fewer, with seven coming in the opposition's final at-bat.

A slew of frustrating losses has begun to get to Baker. After a 6-3 win over Florida on a hot, humid Monday, Baker - who is black - made insensitive remarks about minorities being able to cope with the heat. He was at it again Tuesday.

"These are the types of games managers just don't even want to go home," he said. "You'd like to go out and get drunk, but then you'd be drunk all the time. You don't want to take that back home to your family."

Rookie Nate Bump (2-0) gave up a run in 2 1/3 innings but picked up the win. Looper held on for his 16th save.

Willis and Zambrano matched zeros through 5 2/3 innings before the rains came. Zambrano scattered seven hits, walking three, striking out four and throwing 105 pitches in six innings.

While Remlinger took the loss, Alfonseca added fuel to the fire in a two-run eighth, yielding two runs on three hits and a walk. In his last seven appearances, he has allowed 13 runs and 14 hits over 4 2/3 innings.

"Quite frankly, these games are beginning to be a strain on the team," Baker said. "As far as Alfonseca goes, we don't know what we should be doing with him. He just didn't pitch very well today."

"You really feel for him," Cubs catcher Damian Miller added. "You know right now he feels like he's out there on an island all by himself. Hopefully, he'll be able to get himself straightened out. We all support him."

Looper had his own struggles, allowing a single, double and two walks around an out in the ninth. But Castillo made a leaping catch on Moises Alou 's liner at second base and Sosa popped out to end it.

"I almost blew that game for us today," Looper said. "I finally got around to getting the last out. But the only one that I pitched good to was Sosa. Besides that, my ball was going all over the place."


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