ATLANTA — Stirring postseason performances are commonplace for the pitching-superior Atlanta Braves and their Cy Young Award-winning trio.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz have ended many playoff dreams quickly in the National League division series. Apparently, Kevin Millwood enjoys ruining parties too.
The rising young star tossed a record-setting one-hitter during a 5-1 victory over the Houston Astros on Wednesday in Game 2 of the division series at Turner Field.
Millwood established division series benchmarks for fewest hits in a complete game and consecutive hitless innings (seven) while helping the Braves even the best-of-five series, 1-1, after they dropped an opener under this format for the first time Tuesday.
The right-hander built on his breakthrough regular season--giving up only a one-out home run to Ken Caminiti in the second inning. Millwood's moving performance ignited cheers from a crowd of 41,193, and admiration from the overwhelmed Astros.
"Well, a stronger game has not been pitched against us all year," Houston Manager Larry Dierker said. "He spotted his fastball well, he threw hard and his curveball finished us off."
Millwood's Astro counterpart gave him high marks too.
"He is an outstanding pitcher," said right-hander Jose Lima, who worked 6 2/3 innings on three days' rest. "You see what happened; I give him a lot of credit.
"To me, the [NL] Cy Young can go to him or [Arizona's] Randy Johnson."
Millwood faced two batters over the minimum--third baseman Chipper Jones committed an error in the seventh. He threw 76 strikes among 105 pitches and had no walks.
The Braves supported Millwood with 11 hits, nine against Lima, who was charged with four runs in his second consecutive start on short rest.
Atlanta took a 2-1 lead in the sixth on Eddie Perez's sacrifice fly, and took control with three runs in the seventh after chasing Lima and getting into the Astros' normally reliable bullpen.
Not that Millwood needed a four-run cushion.
His one-hitter was the first in Braves' playoff history, and the fewest hits in a playoff complete game since Jim Lonborg pitched a one-hitter for the Boston Red Sox on Oct. 5, 1967. Moreover, Millwood delivered at a key moment for Atlanta in his first postseason appearance.
He was on the spot because no NL team has rallied from a 0-2 deficit to win a division series. Now, the Braves head to Houston feeling good again, and Millwood brightened their outlook.
"Yeah, this has got to be the best [outing of his career]," said Millwood, who threw a one-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. "The other one-hitter, that was great too, but to do it in a playoff game is really something.
"We needed a big win today. It was probably the biggest game I have pitched in, so I would have to say it is my best performance ever."
His boss concurred.
"I'd rate it right there with Glavine's sixth game [the 1995 World Series clincher] against Cleveland," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "It was right there in that category. Kevin was just really good today."
Of course, he has been all season.
Millwood, 24, emerged from the imposing shadows of his rotation mates, going 18-7 with a 2.68 earned-run average. Opponents batted .202 against him--lowest in the major leagues.
He was Mr. Consistent while Maddux and Glavine were getting pounded and Smoltz was battling elbow problems. Millwood was selected as an all-star in only his second full season, serving notice and making the competition even more envious of the Braves.
Along the way, Millwood has been counseled by the best in the business.
"I don't think I was ever intimidated," Millwood said of joining the Braves' rotation. "You've got guys who have won seven Cy Youngs, so it's kind of tough to be a high-profile guy around them, but nobody ever made me feel intimidated.
"I came up from triple-A [at the end of '97] and these guys were great. They just start helping you out right away."
Now, Millwood is helping too.
One-hit games pitched in playoff games with date, pitcher, team, when hit occurred and score.
* Oct. 9, 1974, Mike Cuellar (4 2/3 innings) and Ross Grimsley (4 1/3), Baltimore, one out in the 7th. Baltimore lost to Oakland, 2-1.
* Oct. 12, 1990, Danny Jackson (6 innings), Norm Charlton (1), Randy Myers (2), Cincinnati, one out in the 5th. Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh, 2-1.
* Oct. 6, 1999, Kevin Millwood, Atlanta, one out in the second. Atlanta beat Houston, 5-1.