07/14/07 2:18 AM ET
Rangers take tough loss in opener
Millwood solid in start, but bats let club down vs. Angels
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
Starting pitching, which has been driving the Rangers surge of late, was still there but the clutch hitting and relief pitching was not.
Instead, Casey Kotchman drove home Gary Matthews Jr. with a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave the Angels a 2-1 victory over the Rangers Friday night.
Kevin Millwood allowed just one run in seven innings but Kelvim Escobar was just a little bit better, holding the Rangers to one run over eight innings. The Angels also had All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez and he pitched the ninth to get the victory.
"It's disappointing but you can't dwell on it," Rangers catcher Gerald Laird said. "We played a [heck of a] game but they did too. They just got one more run. That's tough when you're playing well."
Reliever Joaquin Benoit took over for Millwood and got the Rangers through the eighth. But Matthews led off the ninth with a double -- a lined shot that skipped just past shortstop Michael Young to his left.
Ron Mahay took over to face two left-handed hitters and both got the job done. Garret Anderson's grounder to second moved Matthews to third and, after the Rangers moved the infield in, Kotchman slapped a grounder through the right side for the game-winner.
"They played the game right there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "For our guys to bust their tails and lose that game like that, it's tough."
The Rangers offensive struggles came on a night when Mark Teixeira returned to the lineup after missing over a month with a strained quadriceps muscle. Teixeira was 1-for-3 with a double and Angels manager Mike Scioscia still showed the respect by intentionally walking him with a runner on third and two out in the eighth.
Escobar got out of that jam by getting Sammy Sosa to pop out to right field and the Rangers ended the night going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The Rangers are 10-for-63 (.159) with runners in scoring position in July after hitting .300 in those situations in June.
Millwood, making the 300th start of his career, allowed one run on five hits and three walks while striking out seven. He has a 3.23 ERA in his last five starts and his overall ERA for the season is now at 5.77. That's the lowest it has been since April.
"You'd like to come out of that with a win but the other guy pitched well too," Millwood said. "I felt I went out there and gave us a chance to win. That's my job. I'm getting more comfortable and my confidence is growing with every start. That's what you want and that's what's happening."
Millwood did not allow a hit in the first three innings, but Orlando Cabrera broke that up with a one-out single in the fourth. Vladimir Guerrero followed with a one-hop smash back to the mound that hit Millwood in the back of the leg and bounded toward the third-base foul-line for an infield hit.
Matthews singled to right to give the Angels a 1-0 lead but Millwood came back to strike out Anderson and retire Kotchman on a one-hop grounder back to the mound. Millwood caught that one with his bare right hand instead of his leg.
That was all the Angels could muster against Millwood, who held them to a 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. But the sore leg started to catch up to him by the seventh and that's why the Rangers went to the bullpen in the eighth.
"He just commanded the strike zone," Kotchman said. "He pounded the strike zone with a variety of pitches. It's tough when the guy has multiple pitches and commands them."
The Rangers tied it in the fifth off Angels starter Kelvim Escobar when Laird led off with a double, went to third on Jerry Hairston's sacrifice bunt and scored on a single by Ramon Vazquez.
Kenny Lofton then singled to put runners on first and second and Michael Young followed with a line drive to right. But this time Guerrero caught it just off the ground and threw to second to double off Vazquez.
That was the start of the most frustrating offensive stretch of the night for the Rangers. They brought up Teixeira, Sosa and Marlon Byrd in the sixth and all three hit hard line drives. All three were right at fielders and the Rangers went down in order.
"We thought we were going to get to him," Byrd said. "But he started to bear down and got the outs he needed. That's why he's the ace over there. We thought we had him and we didn't get him."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.