[Programming advisory: Tonight's Athletics-Rangers game has been postponed due to rain and will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Friday, May 29th.]
Against a unsettling backdrop of injuries that befell the now-last-place Oakland Athletics at an alarming rate on Tuesday evening, resurgent rotation stalwart Kevin Millwood battled through one of his gutsier all-time performances in a Texas Rangers uniform and led his younger counterparts by example in catapulting his team back to the all-important .500 threshold.
Synopizing a game which was (a) inexplicably blacked out locally by the second-round-bound Dallas Mavericks and (b) bereft of Pitch f/x data is difficult in a day and age where one is so accustomed to the luxuries of technology, but being forced to revert to the dulcet, reassuring tones of Eric Nadel's voice for an evening is anything but tragic, and one could definitely get the sense from the radio-side broadcast that Millwood was a man on a mission, determined to atone for his inability to keep Athletics off the basepaths and redeem the defense that had committed two costly errors behind him.
Right fielder Nelson Cruz ultimately compensated for his apparent fifth-inning defensive carelessness by smashing the game-winning RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning (plating Hank Blalock from second base and positioning closer Frank Francisco to work a flawless six-pitch ninth inning), but the delightful ending was largely enabled by Millwood's eight innings of four-run baseball -- worked on 121 pitches, representing his career-best fifth consecutive start of 110 pitches or more -- and stubborn refusal to entrust the game's outcome to the Rangers' improving-but-questionable middle relief corps.
Critics of the Bill James-conceived metric known simply as "Game Score" argue that the criteria it utilizes are both improperly weighted and arbitrary, and it's certainly not the sort of metric that one would center a detailed sabermetric study around, but it is a useful invention from the standpoint that it roughly encapsulates the quality of a starting pitcher's performance into a single number. Millwood amassed a game score of 67 on Monday evening (8 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K), which doesn't seem particularly impressive in and of itself until you realize that the veteran right-hander has logged game scores of 67 (April 6th), 75 (April 12th), 69 (April 18th) and 52 (April 23rd) in his other four starts thus far this season.
The last time that Millwood notched five consecutive game scores above 50? Try a five-start string spanning June 28th through July 18th, 2007, during which he posted a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings and limited the opposition to an inconsequential .198/.293/.241 batting line. The last time that Millwood notched four out of five game scores above the 60 mark? Try dialing all the way back to April 29th through May 20th, 2006, during which Millwood logged four starts of seven innings or more and two runs or less that were intersected by a fluky 1.1-inning disaster against the Twins on May 9th.
A run of three good starts is one thing, but we're fast approaching unchartered waters here with respect to the success being enjoyed by Millwood that's almost beginning to appear sustainable; quite frankly, he hasn't been this good for this long in nearly two years, and while we're often inundated with overwrought and overexaggerated stories of spring revivals as the calendar pages flip from February to March to April, the rigorous off-season conditioning program which Millwood espoused at the strong urging of team president Nolan Ryan is beginning to pay off in the form of enhanced run prevention -- a central tenet of what the Rangers are attempting to accomplish at the major league level. He's at the forefront of that movement right now, and is doing everything he possibly can to ensure that he's at the forefront of that movement in 2010 as well by virtue of relentlessly moving towards the requisite 180 innings that will convert his $12 million vesting option into guaranteed cash.
Talk might be cheap, but execution ain't, and Millwood delivering during a game in which he was evidently deprived of his best stuff -- and forced to overcome a torn fingernail, at that -- is a tremendous step in the right direction for a team that's still searching for its identity, but sure is capable of supplying some entertaining baseball during the course of that search.
Entertaining. And for the moment, winning.