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Schlegel: Millwood up to the task
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Division Series
10/04/2002 01:14 am ET 
Schlegel: Millwood up to the task
 

Kevin Millwood fell while covering first base on Thursday. (Roberto Borea/AP)
ATLANTA -- Teams run into this problem all the time, right? One of your Cy Young Award winners just got hit hard in Game 1 of the Division Series and your other one needs a couple extra days because he has a blister on his finger.

You need someone else to not only start Game 2, but save your team from a potentially devastating sweep at home.

What's your Plan B?

Of course, that's a problem only a team like the Atlanta Braves might even have, thanks to their Cy Young duo of Tom Glavine (the one with the rough Game 1 start) and Greg Maddux (the one with the blister).

And that's a problem only a team like the Atlanta Braves can solve by putting a pitcher like Kevin Millwood on the mound.

It turned out Millwood was every bit as dangerous Thursday as either of his trophy-toting teammates could have been, pitching six brilliant innings to set the tone of the Braves' series-tying 7-3 victory over the Giants at Turner Field.

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Millwood allowed just two solo homers and a single in his six innings, but more than that put the Giants' bats to sleep with as wickedly hard stuff as he's thrown in his 18-win 2002 season, hitting 95 and 95 mph on the radar gun with regularity.

Not a bad Plan B. Not bad at all.

"He was extra good tonight," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He has not thrown 95, 96, maybe ever."

In fact, Cox thought Millwood might have been a little too wound up. While he liked the fact that Millwood was limited to 72 pitches (54 of them strikes) so he'll be fresh for a potential Game 5, Cox said that wasn't the main reason he turned the game over to Atlanta's bullpen in the seventh.

"It was about 20 percent of a factor," Cox said, saying Millwood's spill covering first base in the sixth wasn't part of the equation. "The other factor was he was so fired up tonight, he about wore himself out. He was actually done after his last out."

When Millwood sauntered into the post-game press conference, he had his chance to retort.

"You can't tell I'm fired up?" the 27-year-old said in a drawl that came through his lips at a speed that would be safe in a school zone in his hometown of Gastonia, N.C., drawing laughter from the gathered media.

Millwood said pitching coach Leo Mazzone was the only one who might have known that he was that amped for this game before it started, watching him warm up in the bullpen. By the end, everyone knew this guy was pumped.

"I was real fired up," he said. "I knew it was a big game for us. We definitely didn't want to go back to San Francisco down two games. I was probably as excited or as pumped as I've ever been."

Which might come as a bit of a surprise to those who saw the facial expression of a man watching paint dry rather than the glare of a virtuoso spinning a masterpiece.

Mentors on the Braves staff like Maddux, Glavine and closer John Smoltz set a pretty good example to follow in that regard.

"Those guys are the same way," Millwood said. "They don't give anything away with their facial expressions or body expressions. They just go about their job."

That, Millwood definitely did Thursday night.

    Kevin Millwood   /   P
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 205
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Phillies site
As you might recall, this stopper start didn't come out of nowhere. He did that gig already, back in 1999 -- a 24-year-old making a spot start in Game 2 of the Division Series with the Braves down a game at home against the Astros. That time, he delivered only the fifth one-hitter in postseason history.

But since his sparkling seasons in '98 and '99, Millwood had been hovering somewhere between another Atlanta ace waiting to happen and a fallen prospect waiting to happen. He had a lackluster 2000 season and a 2001 season interrupted by shoulder problems.

The Braves didn't really know what they'd get out of him this year, and they weren't that crazy about the results after he started out 2-5 through his first 10 outings.

Yet he wound up with an 18-8 record and 3.24 ERA for the season, and finished 2002 on a 16-3 run in his last 25 starts. In doing so, he gives the Braves the best starting trio this side of Oakland.

"He's been incredible," said Smoltz. "He's carried this team for the better part of the second half."

Now, that's saying something when "this team" is the Atlanta Braves and he shares a rotation with a couple of guys named Maddux and Glavine.

"I like being behind those two guys," Millwood said, referring to Cy Young bookends Glavine and Maddux. "Those two guys get all the publicity, and that keeps it away from me. I don't have people breaking down every little thing I do, which is kind of nice."

That won't last long. Not with starts like this one.

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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