MIAMI -- Ninety minutes before Tuesday's game, Lou Piniella sat in the Chicago Cubs' dugout reciting a familiar mantra few believe.
"There's no curse," Piniella said. "There's no curse."
Keeping say it, Lou.
Given the Cubs' tradition of collapses, it takes little imagination for their long-suffering supporters to envision another one this week. More than an hour after the Cubs lost, their lead was trimmed to two games when second-place Milwaukee beat St. Louis 9-1.
"That's why we had a three-game lead when we came," Piniella said. "Now we squandered a piece of it. You can't win every day. You want to, but it just doesn't happen."
Chicago's magic number for clinching the division remained four, with five games left in the regular season.
"We've been playing really good baseball lately," right fielder Matt Murton said. "We ran into a good pitcher tonight. We've got five more games. We're still in a good position."
The Marlins know all about the supposed Cubs curse. Four years ago, Chicago blew a three-games-to-one lead against Florida and lost the NL Championship Series.
The Cubs had won 10 of their past 12 games and four in a row, but bad luck -- an omen? -- helped beat them Tuesday. Consecutive bloopers by the Marlins fell for hits in short right-center field during their four-run second inning against Ted Lilly. A sharp grounder by Aramis Ramirez became a double play.
Worst of all for Chicago, Willis (10-15) delivered perhaps his best performance in a disappointing season. He struck out seven to set a franchise career record, and won for only the third time in 15 decisions since May 29.
"I've been working hard through all adversity," Willis said. "I kept my head up. This is the other side of the stretch."
Willis took a one-hit shutout into the eighth, then walked Geovany Soto and gave up Craig Monroe's first homer to make it 4-2. Willis retired the next three batters, punching the muggy air when he struck out Alfonso Soriano for the third time to end the inning.
"The reports were that he was a little wild," Piniella said. "But he got off to a good start. It probably buoyed his confidence, and he pitched a fine game."
Weary Marlins closer Kevin Gregg was given the night off. Lee Gardner gave up a single but retired two batters in the ninth, and Taylor Tankersley got pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd on a flyout for his first save, completing a three-hitter.
That gave the Marlins their eighth consecutive win against Chicago over the past two seasons.
"It was a big game for us," Willis said. "We knew the atmosphere was going to be electric."
The announced crowd was 16,044, with most cheering for the Cubs. When highlights from the Marlins' 2003 playoff victory over Chicago was shown on the scoreboard screen between innings, fans booed.
"Cubs fans are great," Murton said. "There weren't a ton of them, but they definitely outnumbered the Marlins fans."
The first sign the Cubs have a postseason-mindset came in the opening inning, when Piniella visited the mound with two out and one on. He ordered an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera, and Lilly struck out Mike Jacobs.
Florida bunched together four consecutive singles, including the bloopers by Willis and Hanley Ramirez, and took a 4-0 lead in the second. Ramirez's bases-loaded hit scored the first run, Dan Uggla hit a sacrifice fly and Jeremy Hermida followed with a two-out, two-run double.
"We blooped some in there," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Those count also."
"The seeing-eye variety," Piniella said.
The one bad inning doomed Lilly (15-8), who left for a pinch-hitter after five trailing 4-0. He was most upset about the breaking pitch Hermida hit.
"I'm going to be thinking about that for a few days," Lilly said. "That's one of the things you can't do - give up the big inning. And I did that."
The Cubs lost for the first time in Lilly's past six starts.
"It's just one game," said Monroe, reciting another mantra. "Get ready to go out and play tomorrow."
- Amaris Ramirez, unhappy with the way balls and strikes were called, was ejected by plate umpire Andy Fletcher after flying out for the second out in the ninth. "I didn't say that bad a thing," Ramirez said. "I think he was hot already because we argued the whole game."
- The Marlins set a team record with 762 runs.
- Willis increased his career strikeout total to 755, breaking A.J. Burnett's club record of 753.
- Lilly established a career high with 173 strikeouts this season.