Millwood dominates for much-deserved win
O's vet tosses seven scoreless to stifle first-place Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- In typical Kevin Millwood fashion, there wasn't much hype heading into his final start of the season, as the free-agent-to-be shied away from drawing any attention to what was likely his last career outing in a Baltimore uniform.
It was a different story in the Orioles' dugout, as players and coaches alike leaned over the fence eagerly rooting for the well-liked veteran, who ended his season in the venue it started: inside the Rays' home confines of Tropicana Field, where a late-game implosion and a lack of timely hitting sealed an Opening Day loss for Baltimore.
But on this night, Game No. 158, those two underscores -- interlaced with a disappointing first half that kept Millwood winless in his first 14 starts -- were nowhere to be found. Instead, the Orioles were propelled by Felix Pie's two-out, two-run triple in the seventh inning, just enough offensive support to grant Millwood a 2-0 win and a fitting farewell in what has been the most difficult season of his career.
"He really deserved that," said pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who couldn't remember rooting harder for a player than he did for Millwood during Wednesday's seventh-inning bases-loaded jam. "He gave everything he had. He emptied his tank right there."
Millwood tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out seven, to secure a series win against an American League-best Tampa Bay squad. It marked just his second win in his last 10 starts -- and fourth of the season -- despite turning in seven quality starts over that stretch, as Millwood entered Wednesday with the second-lowest run support of any AL arm.
"You see the way he has handled adversity individually and from a group standpoint," manager Buck Showalter said of Millwood, who set career highs in losses (16) and home runs allowed (30). "[Wednesday's win is] probably the baseball gods shining on him at the end of the season."
It was also an emphatic end to a resurgent final two months, in which the O's have also taken road series in New York and Boston. Wednesday's victory improved Baltimore to 31-22 under Showalter and ends the season series with the Rays -- a night removed from clinching a postseason berth -- at 7-11.
"I don't think anybody in contention really cares to play this team right now," Millwood said of an Orioles squad, once on pace to lose 113 games, that is now guaranteed to avoid the dubious 100-loss mark.
"One hundred losses are never good," Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton said. "[It's] nothing you want to look back on and say you were a part of. But at the same time, I think what enabled us to not get there is the fact that we focused on each game and it was a new game each and every day."
Millwood -- the league leader in losses -- used that same approach, never once complaining about the lack of runs scored or tendency for the defense to go missing on days he took the hill.
"I hope they don't dislike me and just don't want to score runs," he joked of his teammates. "I definitely don't think that's the case. ... It's not like I pitched great all year and should have a much better record. [It] just didn't happen for me."
Still, there was a sense of relief radiating from the O's clubhouse on Wednesday night, as they were able to send Millwood -- acquired over the offseason in a trade with Texas -- off in style.
"A lot of people forget that early in the year, this guy was one of the best pitchers in the whole AL, in my opinion, and we would somehow find a way to goof it up for him," Wigginton said. "For him to come out and have a night like [Wednesday], it was a lot of fun to play behind. And I think everybody knows some of the hard luck he's been through."
It was vintage outing for Millwood, who overcame a fastball stuck in the mid-80s to cruise through the first six innings on 75 pitches. He allowed only John Jaso's single to open the fourth over that stretch, a hit which was erased by Pie turning a double play. Millwood got out of his only jam of the day in the seventh after opening the frame with a full-count free pass to Ben Zobrist and Carl Crawford's bloop single. Two outs later, Millwood intentionally walked Matt Joyce to load the bases and get to Upton, who he had already struck out twice. The move paid off, as he sent the Rays outfielder down swinging again, this time on four pitches.
"You know this guy doesn't have the same stuff he used to have, but he's got the same mind," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the 35-year-old Millwood. "He knows how to pitch. And he outpitched us. He outthought us, he outperformed us."
And he made sure Baltimore's final road contest of 2010, and perhaps the final snapshot Orioles fans will recollect, would be a positive where Millwood is concerned.
"I look at that record, and it's not an indication for how he threw, especially early," Kranitz said. "But as far as the young guys, they see a guy that's been a warrior, a guy that has put up big numbers in his career. They saw him go through a tough stretch and be professional. He was the same guy. Hopefully our guys took a look and saw how you handle things in tough situations and when things aren't going real well for you."
Added Showalter: "[Millwood was the] same guy every day regardless of what's happening. There's a lot of stuff going on inside for a guy to do what he's done through the course of his career. I hope the rest of his career treats him as well as he's treated the game."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.