Millwood masters O's

He allows four hits in six innings, spoiling Benson's complete game

Rangers 2 Orioles 1


Orioles starter Kris Benson estimated the difference between a satisfying victory and a grueling defeat last night at 4 feet. A groundball by Gary Matthews barely eluded the glove of Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora. A ground ball by Mark DeRosa barely fell fair.

Both Texas Rangers players scored on fourth-inning sacrifice flies, the lone blemishes on Benson's line. Instead of enjoying a shutout, Benson was forced to swallow a 2-1 loss in front of 28,201 at Camden Yards, where Texas starter Kevin Millwood kept the Orioles' offense in its second-half slumber.

Benson (9-8) was given a standing ovation after he walked off the mound in the ninth, little consolation as his second complete game of the season, one more than the Orioles (41-51) had all last year, resulted in his third straight loss. With the defeat, the Orioles stayed a game out of last place in the American League East. "Probably a total of 4 feet beat me tonight," Benson said. "That ball hit off [Mora's] glove and then another one that just made it over the line a couple feet away from him. You know, they did a good job getting some sac flies and scoring them, and I couldn't really do much about it."

The Orioles' offense could have, but it didn't give its pitcher, who was coming off three shaky outings, much support. In two games after the All-Star break, the Orioles, back to a season-high 10 games under .500 and now 0-4 against Texas (47-43) this season, have two runs and 10 hits. In 11 July games, the Orioles are averaging less than four runs a game and have hit only five home runs.

Last night, they managed their only run on Mora's sacrifice fly in the sixth. Three Rangers relievers, including former Oriole Rick Bauer, followed up Millwood's six strong innings with scoreless innings. Closer Akinori Otsuka got his 18th save, retiring Corey Patterson on a hard grounder to first baseman Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) after Jeff Conine had gotten on with a two-out walk. "We need to start hitting a little bit more," Mora said. "The way [Benson] pitched, we need to win the game. Both sides pitched pretty well, but we need to score more runs."

In two victories over the Orioles this season, Millwood, a former pupil of Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone in Atlanta, is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA. Last night was his first start since being sent to the disabled list July 2 because of a right biceps strain and he showed little rust, allowing only four hits and two walks over six innings.

When his team was four-hit by Vicente Padilla in Thursday's series opener, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo felt his team looked rusty after a three-day layoff. He acknowledged that last night was just a case of a good pitcher shutting the Orioles down.

"He pounded that fastball on the outside of the plate and he didn't seem to miss," Perlozzo said about Millwood. "We haven't scored obviously. We'll get it going. We need to get it going."

Looking to upgrade their rotation this offseason, the Orioles had interest in Millwood, but they were ultimately scared away by his agent Scott Boras' asking price. The Rangers had no such concerns and signed the pitcher to a five-year, $60 million deal in late December. A month later, the Orioles made their move on a pitcher, acquiring Benson from the New York Mets.

Benson had been the Orioles' most consistent pitcher before two poor outings this month. Several hours after the Orioles optioned the enigmatic Daniel Cabrera to Triple-A Ottawa, throwing their much-maligned rotation into even more flux, Benson had one of his best outings, holding the Rangers, who scored 15 runs a night earlier, to four hits.

Several teams sent scouts last night to get a look at Benson, who would be one of the better names in a relatively dry pitching market, and the Rangers are among the clubs who could be interested. At this point, the Orioles would prefer keeping the pitcher, unless they are offered a lot in return.

He didn't give up a hit last night until Matthews led off the fourth with a hard grounder that hit the glove of a drawn-in and diving Mora and dribbled into shallow left field. DeRosa followed with a bouncing double that just went inside the third base line.

Texas shortstop Michael Young, the Most Valuable Player at this week's All-Star Game, lined out to right fielder Nick Markakis, scoring Matthews and moving DeRosa up a base. Teixeira, who had a career-high three home runs and seven RBIs in the Rangers' 15-1 victory in Thursday night's series opener, followed with a sacrifice fly, also to right, and the Rangers led 2-0. It was a deficit that the Orioles were never able to overcome.

"[Benson] pitched a great game," Perlozzo said. "There's no question about it. Even the one inning where he gave up two runs, one was an infield hit off Melvin's glove and then there was a ball off the end of the bat that just went off the bag. Other than that, he was outstanding. It was one of the best I've seen him all year. He deserved better."

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