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06/23/07 2:07 AM ET
Sosa keys decisive eight-run fifth
Millwood the benefactor in his fourth victory thus far
By Drew Davison / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Starting pitching has been the Rangers' Achilles heel all season and they desperately needed their ace, Kevin Millwood, to turn his season around. Millwood won for the first time since April 13 during his last outing on June 17, at Cincinnati. Friday night, he made it back-to-back wins with a victory over intrastate rival Houston.
"I don't think I'm right exactly where I need to be, but I'm getting closer every time," Millwood said after winning his fourth game of the year. "I'm as healthy as anybody else in this league. Nobody feels 100 percent, that's just part of the game. My hamstring is fine, and my arm feels good. I'm ready to roll."
The Rangers offense rolled, too. The Rangers (29-44) hit three home runs during an eight-run fifth inning, cruising past the Astros (31-42), 11-3, Friday in front of 37,847 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"It was nice to start swinging the bats like that," manager Ron Washington said. "The story, again, was Millwood. If you talk to him he probably says he needed to be better, but he was as good as he needed to be."
Millwood (4-6, 7.31) had a solid performance going six innings, scattering nine hits for three runs (all earned). But, as his skipper predicted, Millwood, a perfectionist, is far from where he wants to be.
"I felt like tonight, I didn't have a very good breaking ball," he said. "My slider wasn't very good. My curveball wasn't very good. If they were, it would've been a little easier night than it was."
Millwood didn't make it easy, but when he was in trouble, he pitched out of it. The Astros got their first two batters on to start the second inning, but Millwood responded by getting a short fly ball and two groundouts. With runners at the corners in the third, Millwood got out of it again getting a grounder. The most impressive inning was the fifth. Houston scored two runs on three consecutive hits, but Millwood didn't allow any damage after that, stranding three runners.
"He battled his [tail] off that inning," Brad Wilkerson said. "He minimized damage that inning and it just carries over."
The Rangers offense exploded in the bottom half of the inning, scoring eight runs. Designated hitter Sammy Sosa hit career home run No. 601, a two-run shot that curled inside the right-field foul pole. But, that was just the beginning of the Rangers onslaught. Marlon Byrd followed Sosa with a monster home run to left-center field. It was measured at 449 feet, tying the sixth longest home run in the history of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It was the third consecutive game Texas hit back-to-back home runs. Three batters later, Wilkerson went deep to the right-field seats, for a two-run homer.
"Anytime you can put that amount of runs, it's fun," Washington said. "That means if we put eight up there, they have to score nine and I don't think they were going to get nine."
No, they weren't. The Rangers held the Astros scoreless the next four innings, bringing in relievers Joaquin Benoit and Frank Francisco to close the game.
"The offense is going to be there," Washington said. "We need to toe the rubber and pitch. Then, the defense is going to get better."
Millwood provided the pitching, and Sosa continued to impress. After he hit went opposite-field for No. 601, he came back later that inning and delivered a two-run single to right.
"He went up top and got it high and away," Washington said. "He just smells RBIs."
Sosa now has 57 RBIs. While Washington enjoys seeing the big innings, he keeps pointing to the pitching efforts of late.
Millwood went six innings in his last outing, against the Reds. But, he had struggled mightily before that. He was 0-5 with a 10.05 ERA in his previous seven starts. But, Friday was different.
"After my last game, I got a little bit of confidence," he said. "You can talk about confidence any way you want, but it's a huge part of the game for pitchers. When you have confidence, it doesn't make it easier per se, but in your mind, it makes it easier.
"I feel I took confidence from the last game and it carried over. Hopefully, it carries over through the rest of the year."