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To Spite Their Face: Phillies at Marlins, May 1-2

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May 1: Phillies 8, Marlins 5 WP: Cormier (1-0) LP: Willis (1-2) S: Gordon (7)
May 2: Phillies 7, Marlins 5 WP: Lieber (1-4) LP: Nolasco (1-1) S: Gordon (8)

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What's the worst job in the world? While smartasses of a certain age and upbringing might reflexively answer "assistant crack whore," some have made a more involved effort to answer this question. While "Florida Marlins ticket sales rep" probably isn't as unpleasant as, say, Dysentery Stool-Sample Analyzer, it's probably even more challenging and on the bad days not all that much more fun.

After drawing over 31,000 fans for their home opener against San Diego--a 9-3 loss--the Marlins have played before home crowds of between 8,000 and 15,000, this last for last Saturday night's 8-7 loss to Colorado. Perhaps Monday night, with ace Dontrelle Willis set to pitch, the team will have some walk-up traffic; it's also Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center Monday, according to the team's promotional calendar.  Later in the season, planned events include Bark at the Park and, I swear, Marlins Mr. Potato Head.

Even with all these heroic efforts, it will be a surprise if the Marlins draw much over a million fans total for the 2006 season. That's sort of how it goes when your ownership has essentially raised both middle fingers to the community by ditching virtually every player they could move and putting on the field the lowest-salaried team since 1998, according to the USA Today baseball salary database.

Still, anytime Willis pitches, the team has a better than even chance of notching a win. The colorful lefty has yet to allow a home run this season, and while the Marlins have lost four of his five starts thus far, it's hard to blame Willis: Florida has scored two or fewer runs in three of his starts. And while budding superstar Miguel Cabrera is the only other Marlin whose name would resonate with the casual baseball fan, the team is not without other offensive contributors: Hanley Ramirez, the toolsy infielder who came to Florida in the trade for Josh Beckett, is doing a credible Juan Pierre impression at the top of the batting order with 20 runs scored and 7 steals, and catcher/left fielder Josh Willingham has driven in 20 runs and has more walks (11) than strikeouts (10).

Though they've lost three of their last four games, the Phillies have seen their starting pitching noticeably improve the most recent time through the rotation. It falls to Ryan Madson and Jon Lieber, now possessed of the highest ERAs on the staff, to keep up the progress against a strikeout-prone Marlins lineup.