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WS hero Dontrelle on relief: 'All hands on deck'

MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

MIAMI -- Traditional roles often are cast aside when a World Series championship is on the line. To former All-Star Dontrelle Willis, that's the beauty of the game.

The anything-goes mentality is part of what makes the postseason special. When Willis sees starters coming out of the bullpen, he's all for it.

MIAMI -- Traditional roles often are cast aside when a World Series championship is on the line. To former All-Star Dontrelle Willis, that's the beauty of the game.

The anything-goes mentality is part of what makes the postseason special. When Willis sees starters coming out of the bullpen, he's all for it.

"It's definitely the mindset of the players, all hands on deck," said Willis, a World Series hero with the Marlins in 2003 and currently an analyst for FS1.

In Game 2 of the World Series presented by YouTube TV on Wednesday night, Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda, a starter during the regular season, made a relief appearance on a night the Astros won, 7-6, in 11 innings at Dodger Stadium.

Video: WS2017 Gm2: Maeda tosses 1 1/3 scoreless frames

In October, the Astros regularly have used starters in relief. Lance McCullers Jr. was the most notable, throwing three innings out of the 'pen in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series with the Yankees.

McCullers will start Game 3 of the World Series on Friday at Minute Maid Park.

Willis has first-hand experience coming out of the 'pen. As a 21-year-old with the Marlins in 2003, he made three relief appearances in the World Series against the Yankees. Willis threw 3 2/3 innings against New York, and he was a factor in the Marlins winning the World Series in six games.

"The biggest thing was knowing how many pitches it took for me to be able to compete," Willis said. "Knowing how many pitches to be ready to compete, and go out there and be my best, and be the bulldog.

"The second thing is knowing the matchups that you have to win. I think every time you see great bullpens, the reason they are is because they make the adjustments and know the matchup and the situation."

In 2003, Willis was briefed on the team plane by former manager Jack McKeon on his role against New York.

"Jack McKeon, he never stood up on the plane," Willis said. "But he stood up and he walked all the way to the back of the plane and told me my matchups.

"You have to understand, who you have, and what situation you have to be used. Those were the biggest things for my success, especially, as a long relief guy."

During the season, Willis was the Marlins' top starter, posting a 14-6 record and a 3.30 ERA in 27 starts. The lefty was an All-Star and named National League Rookie of the Year.

Video: NYM@FLA: Willis hurls a one-hitter against the Mets

But he struggled as a starter in the playoffs, and was used in relief against the Yankees. His primary assignments were switch-hitter Jorge Posada and left-handed-hitting first baseman Jason Giambi.

"They told me they wanted to turn Posada around to the right-hand side and to give Giambi some fits," Willis said.

The Marlins won Game 1 of the World Series, with Willis throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Brad Penny.

His next appearance was Game 3, when he labored in one-third inning of relief, allowing a hit and two walks. The Yankees won that game.

But in Game 5, Willis threw a scoreless eighth inning, and the Marlins held on for a 6-4 win, taking a 3-2 series lead.

"The one thing about it is, when I did my job in the World Series twice, we won both the games," Willis said. "When I didn't do my job, we lost the game. That's how key and critical middle relief is, especially in the postseason."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

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