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08/09/07 1:30 AM ET

Millwood, Rangers drop a close one

Starter tosses six solid but bullpen falters in late innings

ARLINGTON -- Kevin Millwood wants to be a No. 1 starter who goes deep into ballgames. This season, Millwood has pitched seven or more innings just twice in 21 starts.

On Wednesday night, Millwood lasted just six innings as the Rangers lost the series finale against the Athletics, 6-3, at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

However, it was a "big step forward" for Millwood from his previous two starts -- a four-inning game at Toronto and a 2 2/3 innings game at Kansas City.

The difference for Millwood was making a slight adjustment by moving from the third base side to the first base side on the pitching rubber.

"It freed me up so I didn't have to throw across my body," Millwood said. "I wasn't real good today, but I was better than I was. My curveball was the only pitch that didn't work very well."

Prior to Wednesday's start, Millwood was 1-1 with a 9.75 ERA in his previous three starts -- pitching a combined 12 innings.

"I want to go deep every time, whether I'm throwing well or not," he said. "This year has been such a struggle. I think physical problems turned into mental problems. It's a struggle to stay consistent."

Millwood had two stints on the disabled list in May with a strained left hamstring. The first three months of the season, Millwood was 4-7 with a 6.01 ERA. In July, he was 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA.

"I struggled with mechanics and injuries," Millwood said. "I'm always tweaking, trying to make myself better and it was a big change [from third base to first base] on the rubber. I felt a lot better."

Manager Ron Washington was pleased with Millwood's outing Wednesday.

"I want him to get deep in the ballgame and keep us in striking distance," he said. "He battled early in the game, but four of the six [innings] he was out there he put zeroes up."

While Millwood did hold Oakland scoreless for four of his six innings, he ran into trouble in the second and third innings. Marco Scutaro had an RBI hit for the Athletics to take an early one-run lead in the second. They jumped out to a two-run lead in the third. Travis Buck led the inning off with a double to center and Nick Swisher drew a walk. Jack Cust drove Buck in with a single to right, and Swisher scored on a Mike Piazza grounder.

While Millwood struggled in the first three innings, it was also the first game he was paired with newly acquired catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

"With different signs, it takes time to get comfortable," Millwood said. "But, he's a good target, I enjoyed throwing to him. I call my own game, it just took some time to get on the same page."

Millwood left after giving up three runs on five hits with six strikeouts and four walks.

The Rangers offense was able to match the Athletics through the first six innings. Jason Botts had an RBI single in the second and Brad Wilkerson tied the game at 3 in the fifth. Wilkerson had a two-run shot to center off Oakland starter Lenny DiNardo, and now leads the Rangers with 17 home runs.

The Athletics pulled away in the seventh, however, against Rangers reliever A.J. Murray. Murray gave up a tie-breaking home run to A's catcher Rob Bowen. Bowen, the Athletics' No. 9 hitter, drilled a home run over the center field fence for his first home run of the season, putting the A's up by one-run.

"I got behind in the count and left a fastball up over the plate," said Murray, who was making his fifth appearance with the Rangers this season. "I'm still trying to get a feel up here, it's a big difference. I try to make a perfect pitch, when I should stick with my game plan."

The Rangers had an opportunity to save Murray in the bottom of the seventh. Ian Kinsler led off with an infield single and Brad Wilkerson reached safely on a sacrifice bunt. But, Oakland reliever Houston Street responded by retiring Michael Young, Sammy Sosa and Marlon Byrd.

"If you say a perfect inning, that was it," Washington said. "Houston is a pretty good pitcher though."

In the eighth against Wes Littleton, Bowen provided two insurance runs with a two-run line-drive homer that curled inside the right-field foul pole. Bowen, who had four career home runs entering Wednesday, homered from both sides of the plate -- the first one from the right side and the second from the left. That marked the sixth time in the Athletics' history that a player hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same game, the last being Swisher who did it on April 23 against Baltimore this season.

Oakland relievers Santiago Casilla and Alan Embree threw scoreless eighth and ninth innings to preserve the lead Bowen provided.

"They came up with some big hits and we came up a little short," Wilkerson said. "We need to make the most of our chances."

Drew Davison is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.