Kevin Millwood appears to have come unstuck in time, and the Seattle Mariners won Wednesday despite being held to four hits, largely because Millwood put up six zeros on the scoreboard.
Oh, and Alex Liddi put up four runs on one swing.
Against the relentless Texas Rangers, Seattle’s 5-3 victory allowed the Mariners to take two of the three games in this series and prepare now for a battle at the bottom of the American League West.
The Los Angeles Angels come in for a four-game series that will determine which of these teams is in fourth place come Sunday night.
In the meantime, the Mariners will bow gracefully to their tenacious, fierce old bear of a starting pitcher – 37-year-old Millwood.
“The biggest thing the last couple of weeks has been confidence,” Millwood said. “I felt today I was going to have a good game …”
Did he? Millwood followed a complete-game shutout of Colorado with six more shutout innings against Texas – extending his stretch of scoreless innings to 17.
“Against a lineup like that, you’ve got to lock in even more, keep them on the ground, keep them in the ballpark,” Millwood said.
Manager Eric Wedge was duly impressed.
“Kevin was fantastic,” Wedge said.
Rookie Liddi, playing his third-ever game in left field, committed a two-base error in the left-field corner in the third inning, putting Yorvit Torrealba on second base with no one out and Seattle ahead, 1-0.
“I couldn’t tell how far I was from the fence, and I lost the ball for a bit,” Liddi said. “Millwood really picked me up, getting us out of that inning. After that, I relaxed.”
Into the fifth inning, Millwood worked methodically and maintained that 1-0 lead. Then Texas starter Scott Feldman walked Michael Saunders, gave up an infield single to Mike Carp and, with one out, intentionally walked Dustin Ackley to set up a double play.
On deck: Liddi.
“That pumped me up,” Liddi said of the intentional walk. “It’s always a challenge, walking someone to get to you.”
Feldman, a sinker-ball specialist, kept his pitches down. Liddi looked for one he could get airborne, knowing a sacrifice fly would double the Mariners’ slim lead.
He got a fastball about knee high and killed it, lining his third home run and first grand slam of the season just over the out-of-town scoreboard in left field.
“That was huge,” Millwood said. “You’re never comfortable with a 1-0 lead. For him to put us up, 5-0? It was like the whole team could relax and just play baseball after that.”
A Safeco Field crowd of 23,097, hungry to support an offensively challenged team, roared for Liddi to take a bow after his grand slam. Eventually, he did.
“I think (Justin) Smoak pushed me,” Liddi said of his curtain call. “That was special. I’ve never had one. That’s more for proven players …”
Millwood pitched on, working a quick sixth inning but finishing it with 97 pitches. Wedge thought it was enough and went to his bullpen.
“They made him work, but he shut them down,” Wedge said of Millwood.
Rangers manager Ron Washington agreed.
“Got to give credit to Millwood,” he said. “We had some opportunities, he made the pitches he needed to. We just couldn’t muster enough runs.”
The Mariners used three relievers – Lucas Luetge, Shawn Kelley and Charlie Furbush – to get three outs in the seventh inning, and each got one.
Came the eighth inning, Wedge waved in set-up man Tom Wilhelmsen, and the Rangers rallied for three runs, two coming on an Adrian Beltre home run.
That meant the ninth inning was a save situation, which meant closer Brandon League. League had eight saves in 11 opportunities, and had wobbled in recent appearances.
Nelson Cruz flied out. Torrealba struck out – seeing one League fastball hit 99 mph. Pinch-hitter Mike Napoli struck out swinging to end the game.
League’s earned-run average fell to 3.72, which matches Millwood’s.
At one point this season, Millwood was 0-4 with an ERA over 6.00. Now he’s on a three-game winning streak in which zeros have piled up all around him.
“I’m putting pitches where I want them, and when I’m not, they’re fouling them off,” Millwood said. “I felt confident in spring training, made one good start and then hit kind of a lull. The last couple of weeks, I’ve just been making my pitch. You do that, you have the confidence you can repeat it.”
At 3-4, Millwood is one victory short of matching his total from 2010 and 2009. He hasn’t won more than four games in a season since 2008. Millwood seems oblivious to the past, unconcerned about the future.
“I’m working pitch to pitch,” he said, and email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLarue