HOUSTON -- Dontrelle Willis gave Florida the NL wild-card lead with an outstanding all-around effort.
"He's a complete guy," Florida manager Jack McKeon said. "He hits, he fields, he pitches. With him in the lineup, it's like an extra bat."
McKeon was asked if there is anything Willis can't do.
"He probably is going to have to work on covering second base," McKeon said with a smile. "He's a gamer. He's a competitor. You almost expect him to go out and have a game like this every time. It's a surprise if it doesn't happen."
Florida moved a half-game ahead of the Astros in the wild-card standings, taking the top spot for the first time since after games of Aug. 30.
Willis (21-8) tied St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter for the major-league lead in victories and complete games by winning his sixth straight start. He allowed eight hits, struck out four and walked one in the opener of a key four-game series.
Willis connected for a two-run shot off Scott Strickland in the sixth inning, giving the Marlins a 6-1 lead. It was his third career homer and first since April 14, 2004, against Montreal in Puerto Rico. He also scored twice and has 11 RBI this year. He hasn't lost since Aug. 12 against San Francisco.
The pitcher's batting average of .259 is higher than his ERA of 2.49.
"He's doing something amazing out there this year," teammate Juan Pierre said. "He's playing both sides of the plate and you don't see that very often. Winning 21 games and hitting the way he is is unreal.
"He's a position player in a pitcher's body."
Willis still isn't satisfied.
"I continue to hurt my team with my bunting," he said. "I'm definitely going to work on that in the offseason.
"But I play hard. I definitely leave it all on the field every time. (Team management) is still upset at me for diving headfirst back to the base. But that's the only way I know to play."
Carlos Delgado, Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine also homered for Florida, which won for the fifth time in seven games. The Astros have lost three of four and are a half-game ahead of Philadelphia for second place in the wild-card chase.
"We just had a lot of Dontrelle Willis tonight, more than I'd care to see," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "Brandon (Backe) threw the ball well. He had a lot of good pitches and only a few mistakes. That was a decent job against a team that is really swinging the bat well."
"What worries me is that we've had three games that are stinkers. We didn't look good against Milwaukee and we didn't look good tonight. They pretty much took it to us tonight."
Backe (8-8) lasted five innings and allowed four runs, three earned, and seven hits in his second game back after missing five weeks with a ribcage injury.
"He was on a roll," Backe said about Willis. "I looked up and he had only 39 pitches going into the fifth inning. That means he had a lot of easy outs and a lot of easy innings.
"He doesn't have 21 wins for nothing. He has very good stuff. He mixes up his pitches well and he's difficult to hit. He's a good hitter as well."
Lance Berkman was 0-for-3 against Willis.
"He's not a guy who's going to give you a lot of different looks," Berkman said. "When you go up there, you know pretty much what you're going to get. He's got something goofy on that fastball. You just can't seem to get a good hit on it."
Delgado hit a two-run homer in the first, and the Marlins stretched their lead to 3-0 with an unearned run in the fourth.
After Damion Easley walked, Pierre had a bunt single and third baseman Jose Vizcaino was charged with an error on the throw, allowing Easley to reach third. Paul Lo Duca then drove in Easley with a single.
Cabrera led off the fifth with his 31st home run to make it 4-0. Jason Lane hit his 22nd homer leading off the bottom half.
After Willis homered in the sixth, Berkman's sacrifice fly in the bottom half made it 6-2.
Conine added a two-run shot in the ninth off Russ Springer.
|Dontrelle Willis has an outstanding all-around game, going the distance and hitting a home run. (AP)|
|Players of the Game|
|Luis Castillo, 2B||4||0||0||0||1||0||1||.298|
|Jeff Conine, LF-1B||5||2||3||2||0||1||2||.315|
|Miguel Cabrera, 3B||5||1||1||1||0||0||3||.330|
|Mike Lowell, 3B||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.234|
|Carlos Delgado, 1B||5||1||2||2||0||1||2||.298|
|Chris Aguila, LF||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.212|
|Juan Encarnacion, RF||4||0||0||0||0||0||3||.293|
|Damion Easley, SS||3||1||0||0||1||2||0||.242|
|Juan Pierre, CF||4||0||2||0||0||0||0||.270|
|Paul Lo Duca, C||4||1||2||1||0||0||1||.297|
|Dontrelle Willis, P||3||2||1||2||1||0||3||.259|
|2B - Juan Pierre (14, Backe)|
|HR - Jeff Conine (3, Springer), Miguel Cabrera (31, Backe), Carlos Delgado (29, Backe), Dontrelle Willis (1, Strickland)|
|RBI - Jeff Conine 2 (28), Miguel Cabrera (105), Carlos Delgado 2 (104), Paul Lo Duca (53), Dontrelle Willis 2 (11)|
|2-OUT RBI - Carlos Delgado 2 (44)|
|Team LOB - 5|
|DP - Easley-Castillo-Delgado|
|Dontrelle Willis (W,21-8)||9||8||2||2||1||4||1||2.49|
|HBP - Biggio (by Dontrelle Willis)|
|Pitches-Strikes - Dontrelle Willis 113-74|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Dontrelle Willis 10-12|
|Batters Faced - Dontrelle Willis 36|
|Willy Taveras, CF||4||0||0||0||0||0||5||.289|
|Jose Vizcaino, 3B||4||1||1||0||0||0||0||.261|
|Craig Biggio, 2B||3||0||0||0||0||1||1||.267|
|Lance Berkman, 1B||3||0||0||1||0||1||1||.293|
|Jason Lane, RF||4||1||1||1||0||1||0||.256|
|Chris Burke, LF||4||0||1||0||0||0||0||.244|
|Adam Everett, SS||3||0||1||0||1||0||1||.246|
|Brad Ausmus, C||4||0||3||0||0||0||1||.265|
|Brandon Backe, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.263|
|a- Luke Scott, PH||1||0||0||0||0||1||2||.159|
|Scott Strickland, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Mike Burns, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|b- Eric Bruntlett, PH||1||0||1||0||0||0||0||.202|
|Ezequiel Astacio, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.167|
|Russ Springer, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|c- Orlando Palmeiro, PH||1||0||0||0||0||0||2||.297|
|a-struck out for Backe in the 5th|
|b-singled for Burns in the 7th|
|c-flied out for Springer in the 9th|
|2B - Jose Vizcaino (10, Willis), Chris Burke (18, Willis)|
|HR - Jason Lane (22, Willis)|
|SF - Lance Berkman (1)|
|SH - Brandon Backe (4)|
|RBI - Lance Berkman (66), Jason Lane (67)|
|Team LOB - 7|
|DP - Vizcaino-Biggio-Berkman|
|E - Jose Vizcaino (5, Wild throw)|
|Brandon Backe (L,8-8)||5||7||4||3||2||1||2||5.00|
|Pitches-Strikes - Brandon Backe 83-55, Scott Strickland 23-15, Mike Burns 8-5, Ezequiel Astacio 7-6, Russ Springer 23-12|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Brandon Backe 8-6, Mike Burns 2-0, Ezequiel Astacio 1-1|
|Batters Faced - Brandon Backe 24, Scott Strickland 5, Mike Burns 3, Ezequiel Astacio 3, Russ Springer 5|
|Attendance - 27538|
|Game Time - 2:27|
|Temperature - 72|
|Umpires - Home - Bruce Dreckman, First Base - Doug Eddings, Second Base - James Hoye, Third Base - Bill Hohn|