Originally created 07/04/99

Braves blank Mets, again



NEW YORK -- You can judge Kevin Millwood's performances by the color level in his face.

The more flushed he appears, the better he pitches.

Working on a humid Saturday afternoon, Millwood was redder than, well, a big apple, and what followed was the type of pitching performance the Atlanta Braves have become accustomed to seeing from their rapidly developing right-hander.

Dominating New York's lineup like no other pitcher has this season, Millwood yielded a pair of singles over eight innings and became the National League's sixth 10-game winner as the Braves reached the halfway point in the season with their 50th victory, 3-0, over the Mets before a Shea Stadium crowd of 43,256 fans.

"I think it was the best game he's pitched in his career," Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone said.

Atlanta's third straight shutout over New York boosted its division lead to five games, its largest since June 11. Millwood (10-4) simply overwhelmed a lineup that held the league's fourth-best batting average and was averaging 5.2 runs per game. He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and finished with three walks and six strikeouts.

How dominate has Millwood been for the last month? Starting with his June 6 start against the Red Sox, he hasn't allowed a hit in 25 of 40 innings and hasn't yielded a run in 28 of those innings.

"That was one of the best-pitched performances this year anywhere," manager Bobby Cox said. "For us, against us, in the American League, on TV, anywhere. Just tremendous on the hottest day. He was a horse today."

Millwood received all the support he needed when Chipper Jones doubled with two outs in the fifth inning against Mets starter Al Leiter (7-6) and rode home on Brian Jordan's 16th home run, the 100th of his career. Alerted by the dugout that the hit was a milestone, Atlanta's bullpen sent a security guard into the stands to retrieve the ball. A female fan was willing to part with it for two balls signed by Braves relievers.

"It's great that my 100th home run came against a good pitcher like Al Leiter," Jordan said. "I was looking for a good pitch to drive. That was the straightest fastball I've ever seen Leiter throw."

Said Leiter, "Tell Brian that was a slider, and I guess it backed up and looked like a fastball."

Leiter, who won all five of his June starts and was named the N.L. Pitcher of Month, yielded another run the next inning. Gerald Williams, whose three-run homer in the ninth inning capped the scoring in Friday night's 16-0 shellacking, singled, then stole second and third, and scored on Eddie Perez's base hit.

Millwood, whose 31-15 record as a starter is far better than any of Atlanta's Big Three of Greg Maddux (23-21), Tom Glavine (14-23) and John Smoltz (17-23) after the same number of starts, relied mostly on fastballs and sliders to subdue the Mets. He departed after issuing a leadoff walk to Brian McRae in the ninth, and John Rocker finished up, striking out Mike Piazza with a pair of runners on base for his 17th save.

"I located my fastball well, and my slider was really good," Millwood said. "Until they make me change, I'm not going to change what's working for me."

Millwood's fastball was so overpowering the Mets never had a chance to pull the ball. Jones could have remained in the dugout because he didn't handle a ground ball at third base all afternoon.

"He was awesome," Jones said. "There aren't too many guys who can turn Millwood and Smoltz around."

It was the first time the Mets have been shut out in consecutive games by the same team in four years, and coupled with their 1-0 loss in Atlanta on June 27, marked the first time in club history they have been blanked in three straight games by the same opponent.

Coming on the heels of Friday night's laugher, Millwood's performance sent the Mets out on the town Saturday night wondering how they're going to challenge the Braves for a division championship if they can't dent their fourth starter.

"I don't know if Millwood made a mistake," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "From my angle he was throwing any pitch he wanted in any count. I tip my hat to him. I didn't think he would do it for eight innings, but he did."