Mike Bauman

D-Train deserves the All-Star start

Bauman: D-Train deserves the All-Star start

ATLANTA -- Both managers, Bobby Cox of the Atlanta Braves and Jack McKeon of the Florida Marlins, who watched another pitching masterpiece Thursday night, agreed on this one basic issue:

Dontrelle Willis should be the starting pitcher for the National League squad in the 2005 All-Star Game.

You cannot argue with this much accumulated baseball knowledge. Willis should get the honor and the ball.

It is true that Willis himself suggested on Thursday night that NL All-Star manager Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals should select "one of his guys."

But Willis' modesty is as large as his talent. His complete-game shutout victory over the Braves on Thursday night gave Willis a 12-2 record and lowered his ERA to 1.76. He leads the NL in victories. He also leads the league with four complete games, and he leads the Majors with three shutouts.

There are a lot of National League starters having fine seasons, but there are only two in this rarified, sub-2.00 ERA region, the other being Roger Clemens. And Clemens got the All-Star start last season with the game in Houston. It is Dontrelle's turn. It is Dontrelle's time.

"Dontrelle was his usual self," said McKeon in describing Willis' five-hit, one-walk, seven-strikeout evening. "There's a guy who's probably the best pitcher in the National League right now. Leads the league in shutouts, complete games, has the most wins."

The issue of naming a starting pitcher for the All-Star Game is tricky for any manager, McKeon suggested, but his vote was inevitably for his left-hander.

"It's everybody's hope and dream to start one, but I've been there and so has Bobby Cox," McKeon said. "It's not an easy task when you get Clemens and Pedro [Martinez] and those guys. I'd just be tickled to death if he [Willis] started the All-Star Game. I personally think he deserves it. And I think he showed the whole country what type of guy he is. He just dazzles you."

Willis' candidacy also received the endorsement of Bobby Cox.

"He probably deserves to start the All-Star Game, to be honest with you," the Atlanta manager said. "He's the dominant pitcher in the National League right now."

Willis is no longer this young pitcher with incredible potential. He is only 23 years old, but he is at the top. He is an ace.

You could tell that he was an ace on Thursday night. He did what aces do. He was at his best when the situation demanded that, when his team desperately needed that.

If there were any Dontrelle doubters left, and there shouldn't have been, Willis' performance on Thursday night should have settled the issue once and for all. The Marlins had been shut out twice in a row by the Braves, and had not, in fact, scored in 24 innings.

Even though the Marlins eventually won handily, this was still a 1-0 game after five innings. Willis kept the Braves not only from scoring, but from getting as far as second base for the first seven innings. He retired 15 straight batters between Braves hits in the third and the eighth. He knew exactly what was expected from him, and he delivered.

"Man, I didn't want them coming out early swinging the bats like they've been doing," Willis said. "The Braves are tough at Turner. They play well against anybody coming in here. Bobby Cox has everyone ready to play and that's why you have a great deal of respect for them, and that's why they have all those [championship] banners up there, because no matter who is in the lineup, they're going to be ready to play.

"And you want to give your best effort every time out, especially when your team's struggling and they're looking to you."

Willis fully understands that he is pitching with strength and confidence, but he is still taken aback a bit by the 12-2 record.

"It's hard to win a ballgame up here, man, I'm telling you," Willis says. "It's a lot of hard work, and I think people take that for granted when they see my record. A lot of good things have to happen for myself to win a ballgame, much less 12 in the first half. I'm appreciating every time I step onto that mound."

Willis was named to the NL 2003 All-Star team as a rookie, but did not pitch in the game. Simply being named to the team, he said, "It's massive, man, that's one of the highest honors you can get as far as individual accolades."

But what about actually being the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game?"

"I don't know, man. It would be a very huge honor considering that our manager is not the [NL] manager," Willis said. "I mean, honestly I would start one of his [La Russa's] guys. They have a couple of guys who are throwing the ball well, like [Matt] Morris. So if I made the team, I would want him to start one of his guys, to be honest."

Both Morris and Chris Carpenter are certainly pitching well enough to merit a place on the All-Star team. But no other starting pitcher in the National League is having the kind of season that Dontrelle Willis is having.

If it is good enough for Jack McKeon and Bobby Cox, it ought to be good enough for the National League and for the rest of us, as well. Although he personally would be the last one to say this, Dontrelle Willis deserves to be the National League starting pitcher in the 2005 All-Star Game.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.