Kevin Millwood has dodged the spotlight long enough. He won't get away now, not after what the Atlanta Braves right-hander did to the Houston Astros today.
Millwood, a 24-year-old from Bessemer City, N.C., who speaks with a soft southern voice, has been able to maintain a low profile for two seasons behind the team's collection of Cy Young Award winners. But his anonymity is finished. Millwood pitched a dominating one-hitter to lift the Braves to a 5-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 2 of their National League playoff series.
Millwood was the toughest pitcher to hit in the regular season, with opponents batting .202 against him, and proved why against the Astros with a commanding mix of fastballs, sliders and curves. The only run he allowed was a second-inning home run by Ken Caminiti as the Braves evened the best-of-five series, 1-1.
The Atlanta pitcher, who was 18-7 during the regular season, retired 15 consecutive batters after Caminiti's homer before Jeff Bagwell reached on an error by third baseman Chipper Jones in the seventh inning. That was the only other base runner allowed by Millwood, who struck out eight.
He allowed the fewest hits in a postseason complete game since Jim Lonborg's one-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1967 World Series.
"I'd rate it right up there with [Tom] Glavine's sixth game against Cleveland" in the 1995 World Series, Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "It was right in that category."
Glavine, whose 1-0 victory over the Indians in that game decided the series, starts Game 3 in Houston on Friday afternoon. Glavine had a modest 14-11 record in the regular season, but in his last 10 starts in the Astrodome, he is 8-0 with a 1.35 earned run average. Glavine's last loss in the Astrodome was in 1991. Cy Young candidate Mike Hampton (22-4) will pitch for the Astros.
Millwood got the Braves even in a game they desperately needed to win. Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone said it was the most tension he's felt in the nine most recent seasons the Braves have played in the postseason because they were down 1-0 in a short series.
Millwood seemed to feel none of the pressure. He fell behind the first three hitters he faced, but after that he relaxed and used a nice, easy motion to deliver fastballs, curveballs and sliders wherever he wanted. Millwood finished off hitters with a combination of those three pitches, which kept Houston batters off balance.
"I didn't think they knew what was coming," said four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux. "If they did know what was coming he located it so well they couldn't hit it."
Millwood said it is rare for a pitcher to have such command of three pitches in one outing, but he said they were more than effective.
"I felt like I could get guys out with all three pitches," he said.
"It's as strong a game that's been pitched against us all year," Astros Manager Larry Dierker said. "We really only hit two balls hard all day."
The Braves had a similar problem against losing pitcher Jose Lima. In fact, Atlanta has just two extra-base hits in this series, including one double that barely escaped the infield today.
Atlanta was once a team that thrived on home runs and doubles to the gap, but with Andres Galarraga out for the season with cancer, Javier Lopez out with a knee injury and Brian Jordan's power reduced because of an injured hand, the Braves are finding new ways to score with base hits, daring base running and sacrifice flies.
The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the first when Gerald Williams singled, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Jordan's soft single to center.
It was 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth when Atlanta scored the only other run Millwood needed. Ryan Klesko got a broken-bat single to center and Andruw Jones followed with a line drive that hit the bottom of Caminiti's glove at third. The ball skidded into the outfield and Klesko surprised the Astros by dashing safely into third while Jones ended up at second with a double. Eddie Perez followed with a sacrifice fly and it was 2-1.
The Braves added three runs in the seventh to break open the game. Jordan drove in his second run with a sacrifice fly after the Astros intentionally walked Chipper Jones with a runner on third. Klesko and Andruw Jones then delivered RBI singles to finish off Houston.
"This series is still a coin toss, as far I'm concerned," Chipper Jones said. "I hunt with Hampton in the offseason so I know he wants to one-up me.
"We need Glavine to call out the ghosts and have a performance like he did in the World Series. It's going to be tough because they can close us out down there and I'm sure their fans are going to be behind them at home."