Since the Florida/Miami Marlins became a Major League Baseball franchise in 1993, only the Los Angeles Dodgers have had more National League Rookie of the Year winners. Their first for the Marlins was crowned on this day 20 years ago.
A left-handed pitcher and an All-Star as a rookie, Dontrelle Willis took home the honor on Nov. 10, 2003. Called up in early May, Willis immediately provided a spark to the eventual world champion Florida Marlins.
Willis finished his rookie campaign with a 14-6 record and 3.30 ERA. In nearly 161 innings of work, Willis allowed 148 hits and recorded 142 strikeouts.
At the time of his debut, the Marlins were just 15-21. Florida would fall to 19-29 at one point before rallying to win the National League Wild Card and later, the World Series.
Willis sparked the team by winning 11 of his first 13 decisions. Willis improved to 8-1 on June 26 by throwing seven strong innings in a 6-1 win over the New York Mets as the Marlins evened their record at 40-40. It marked the first time that the Marlins were at .500 since May 1.
Willis had his struggles for the Marlins in seven postseason games, posting an 0-1 record and 8.53 ERA, but did pick up a hold after working 2 ⅓ innings of scoreless relief in Game 1 of the World Series in a 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees. Willis held the Yankees scoreless in three outings during the Fall Classic.
Willis would go on to spend five years as a member of the Marlins, leaving as the club’s all-time leader in a number of categories, including wins (68), strikeouts (757), and innings pitched (1,022.2). Willis remains the Marlins’ all-time leader in shutouts (8) and complete games (15).
Willis would make a second All-Star appearance in 2005 when he finished 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA. He remains the only Marlins hurler ever to reach 20 wins in a season.
Hanley Ramírez (2006), Chris Coghlan (2009) and José Fernández (2013) have all gone on to win N.L. Rookie of the Year as members of the Marlins since. Willis first accomplished the feat on this day two decades ago.
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Mike Ferguson is a contributor for Fish on First, who covers Miami Marlins history. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson