SAN DIEGO -- Glancing at the chart of the Braves' 11-4 victory over the Padres at Qualcomm Stadium Tuesday night, Kevin Millwood couldn't believe his eyes.
"Walking up the tunnel after I came out I thought I only had six or seven strikeouts," he said. "I was pretty surprised with the number I had."
The number was a season-high 12, but the more important total was 17, which is Millwood's win total, matching last year's total and giving him a legitimate shot at 20.
Millwood's performance and a rejuvenated lineup snapped a three-game skid and restored some order to a chaotic pennant race. With 16 games left, the Braves are two games ahead of the Mets, 7-2 losers to the Rockies Tuesday evening, and could salvage a .500 trip with a victory in the series finale Wednesday night.
"(Winning 17) means a lot," said Millwood, who also hit his first career home run, a two-run shot against Padres starter Buddy Carlyle in the fourth. "To be able to come back this year and do what I did last year and do it a little bit better gives everyone a lot more confidence in me."
Millwood demonstrated why he's leading the major leagues in opponents batting average and is third in the National League in strikeouts. He showed off a lively fastball and a big curve that froze so many Padres he should have a popsicle named after him. His only mistake was a 1-0 fastball that Chris Gomez caught up with in the third inning and hit into the left field stands for his first home run of the season.
In the fourth Millwood struck out a pair of Padres. In the fifth he struck out the side. He added three more strikeouts in the sixth. He struck out every San Diego regular, with the exception of Tony Gwynn and Wally Joyner, at least once and gave up only three singles following Gomez's homer.
With three starts left, he has a shot at becoming one of the youngest 20-game winners in franchise history. He's on a roll, having reeled off five straight wins and is 11-3 in his last 17 starts. There's no doubt he'll be among the starters if the Braves make the playoffs, which he sat out last year as the fifth starter.
"It would be easy for me to get all hacked off and mad about not pitching in the playoffs," said Millwood, who left after seven having allowed one run. "But they felt they put the right people in the right situation, and they probably did.
"This year I've been a big part of us being where we are. I've probably got a pretty good chance to pitch in this postseason if we make it."
The pressure on Millwood to snap the club's three-game slide was eased when the lineup backed him up with its best production since a 14-6 pounding of the Rockies on Aug. 16.
Twenty-four hours after making Woody Williams' 4.81 ERA look like a misprint, the Braves finally started to bunch some hits against Carlyle. With two outs in the first, Ryan Klesko, one of the few hitters swinging a hot bat, sent a hit into right field to score Gerald Williams, who was plunked on the arm to open the game. Brian Jordan followed Chipper Jones' two-out double in the third with a single for his 104th RBI, matching his 1996 career-high.
Klesko, with runners on first and second and no outs in the fifth after a single by Keith Lockhart and a walk to Jones, bounced a double down the right field line for a 6-1 lead. In the sixth Jose Hernandez and Eddie Perez hit back-to-back homers against reliever Carlos Almanzar and Jordan picked up his second RBI of the game with a sacrifice fly.
"We've talked about getting everybody hot with the bats in the same game for about a week now," manager Bobby Cox said. "It was nice to score a few and get all of them going."
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