For all the disappointment during this first half of the 2007 season, at least the Rangers can say they went into the All-Star break on a high note.
Kevin Millwood pitched his 4th consecutive quality start on Sunday afternoon, and Texas squeaked past the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1. Not only have the Rangers gone 6-0-1 in their last seven series, but they've won 15 out of 23 games dating back to June 14th, and six out of their last nine.
And to think, they've accomplished all of this without the services of their best player, Mark Teixeira, or their starting third baseman, Hank Blalock. Not too shabby.
Things didn't start real hot for Kevin Millwood on Sunday, though. A leadoff single by Brian Roberts came around to score after a Corey Patterson sacrifice bunt and a Nick Markakis RBI single, and Millwood followed that up by issuing a walk to Kevin Millar, putting runners on 1st and 2nd with one out in the 1st inning. However, Aubrey Huff hit into a double play to end the scoring threat, and as it would turn out, Baltimore had scored their last run of the game.
The Rangers responded quickly against Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera, with three out of their first four batters picking up base hits. Marlon Byrd's RBI single to drive Kenny Lofton home knotted the score at 1-1, and with two men on and one out, Frank Catalanotto stepped in.
On a 1-1 pitch, Catalanotto was called for a check swing strike by home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, who did not ask for help from third base umpire Tim Welke. Cat and manager Ron Washington both began complaining to Barksdale for not asking Welke's opinion. Certainly a valid complaint, considering that TV replays showed it was a very close check swing call that could have gone either way, and that Welke was in a much better position to make a call than Barksdale.
After throwing another ball (which, according to MLB Gameday, was probably a strike), Cabrera threw a borderline pitch that was called as strike three by Barksdale. A disappointed Catalanotto put his head down momentarily, then turned to Barksdale as he made a mild protest.
In perhaps one of the more bush league umpiring moments of the season, Barksdale almost immediately ejected Cat for arguing balls and strikes. Tom Grieve was audibly upset as he ripped Barksdale, saying that "you can't get kicked out for what he [Cat] just did." Indeed, Barksdale's strike zone seemed to be all over the place throughout the game, with Ramon Vazquez showing some frustration during the middle innings on a questionable called strike three.
A few innings after Cat was ejected, roaming FSN ballpark reporter Jim Knox talked to Mavericks play-by-play radio announcer Chuck Cooperstein, and Cooperstein's son pretty well summed up everybody's opinion of Barksdale, yelling "He stinks!" into the microphone when Knox asked what he thought of Barksdale. Just a real pathetic display of umpiring all around.
Although both clubs would piece together several more scoring threats on the afternoon, neither team could capitalize on their opportunities. Millwood got into one more big jam during the 6th inning, as he loaded the bases with two outs, but managed to escape without any damage.
Millwood's was done after that inning, having thrown 93 pitches and given up five hits and three walks. He also struck out four, and managed to lower his 2007 ERA from 6.54 to 6.16. After his latest string of successful starts, it appears Kevin is finally healthy, and he could be good for a nice, solid 4.50 ERA or better the rest of the way. Thanks to Kenny Lofton's solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the 6th inning, Millwood would also earn the victory to improve his record to 6-7 on the year.
Of course, C.J. Wilson did everything he could to render Millwood's strong performance as a no-decision, just like he did with roommate Kameron Loe's six shutout innings on Friday night. After a shutout frame by Joaquin Benoit in the 7th inning, Wilson came on as the setup man for the 8th in a 2-1 ballgame, and the results weren't pretty.
Corey Patterson flied out, Nick Markakis singled, Kevin Millar reached base on a Travis Metcalf throwing error, and Aubrey Huff walked to load the bases with one out. Thankfully, Ron Washington yanked C.J. in favor of Frankie Francisco before he could completely blow the game. It's beginning to get to the point where I don't even want to see Wilson pitching in close games anymore.
Washington's pitching change worked perfectly, as Francisco forced Jay Payton to ground into an inning ending double play on one pitch, bailing out C.J. in the process. Closer Eric Gagne came in for the save in the 9th inning, and quickly retired the side in order, notching his 12th save of the year.
Texas may still be 38-50 and 15 games out of first place, but I don't think this team really cares about that right now. Ron Washington's postgame remarks are living proof of that:
"If we come out in the second half and pitch like we have been and if we continue to play baseball, anything is possible."
And if nothing else, this past month of Rangers baseball has been really, really fun.