Rangers defense lets Millwood down
Righty has strong opening outing, but key error does him in
SEATTLE -- Opening Day is supposed to be a joyful celebration of the new baseball season, but it hasn't exactly provided much joy for Rangers starter Kevin Millwood lately.Especially since he joined the Rangers. This was the best of his three Opening Day starts for the Rangers, and he even came out of it with both a quality start and a 0.00 ERA. But the ultimate result was still the same for both him and the Rangers. The Mariners scored two unearned runs in the sixth inning off of Millwood and three more runs off of reliever Kazuo Fukumori in the seventh as the Rangers went down, 5-2, on Monday at Safeco Field. Millwood, pitching in 45-degree weather at covered-but-not-enclosed Safeco Field, lost for the third straight year as the Rangers' Opening Day starter. The Rangers as a team have lost five straight season openers going back to 2003, including four on the road. Millwood is 1-4 with a 3.86 ERA in five Opening Day starts, including two with Philadelphia. His last Opening Day victory was in 2003 against the Marlins. "They haven't [been fun], but at least today I felt like I gave us a chance," Millwood said. "That's what I want to do, at least give us a chance. I felt good. It wasn't great but I was definitely able to make some pitches when I had to." Millwood did that, taking a two-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the sixth. But Ichiro Suzuki reached leading off the inning on shortstop Michael Young's error and the Mariners were able to scratch out a couple of unearned runs that ultimately left Millwood with the loss. The Rangers, who had the most errors and allowed the most unearned runs in the American League last year, also could not turn an inning-ending double play on Adrian Beltre's grounder right at third baseman Hank Blalock. That could have at least kept the game tied, but the ball took a tricky hop at the end, Blalock bobbled it slightly, the double play didn't get turned and the go-ahead run scored from third base. "You may say those are lapses, but Ichiro hit that ball hard," manager Ron Washington said. "The double play ... we just didn't get it. Hank double-clutched and Beltre hustled down the line. But I trust those guys defensively. That's only one game, they'll come back tomorrow."
The sixth inning was the turning point, and the seventh proved to be the knockout punch when the Mariners scored three more off of reliever Kazuo Fukumori. Jose Lopez's two-run double was the big hit of the inning, but Fukumori didn't help himself by walking fellow countryman Kenji Johjima with one out in the inning, plus throwing two wild pitches on cut fastballs that got past catcher Gerald Laird."Millwood was awesome," Washington said. "He gave us exactly what we wanted. They just busted it up when they got those three in the seventh. If Fuki can put up a zero there, it would have been a different ballgame. But we only scored two runs. There will be many more nights when we'll score more than two runs." Millwood seemed to out-pitch Mariners starter Erik Bedard, who struggled with his command for five innings and racked up a serious pitch total. The Rangers just couldn't finish the job against him. Bedard, who threw 77 pitches in three innings and 106 pitches over five, allowed three hits and walked four. But the only run he allowed was Young's first-inning home run. Bedard staved off further damage by holding the Rangers to 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position against him. That kept the Rangers from taking full advantage of Millwood's outing. "Millwood did great," Young said. "That's why I love playing behind him. He goes out there and competes and goes right after hitters. Unfortunately, we just couldn't help. He did a great job, we just let it slip away in the end." That's been a frustrating, recurring theme for Millwood and the Rangers on Opening Day.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.