SAN DIEGO -- This is rarefied air Kevin Millwood is breathing, up among the winningest pitchers in the major leagues.
With Tuesday night's 11-4 victory over the Padres, he has back-to-back 17-win seasons and an outside shot at 20 wins, which would make him the third-youngest pitcher (he won't turn 25 until Christmas Eve) in franchise history to reach that exclusive plateau. Bill James was 22 when he went 26-7 in 1914 and Bill Danneen was 24 when he was 20-14 in 1900.
"He's extremely impressive," said Tom Glavine, who was 25 when he had his first 20-win season in 1991. "You just don't find that kind of consistency in young players, particularly pitchers. That's part of what makes him a good pitcher. He's always been mature for his experience and I think that's paid off for him."
Millwood's seven-inning, one-run performance lowered his ERA to 2.85, the National League's third-best, and his 187 strikeouts ranks him fourth. He's also among league leaders in innings pitched (205) and winning percentage (.708) and leads the major leagues with a .204 opponents batting average.
To win 20, Millwood will have to beat the Expos in Atlanta Sunday, beat the Expos again in Montreal on the next-to-last weekend of the season and beat the Marlins back in Atlanta during the final weekend. That's a tall order, but not impossible. He's 4-0 against those two clubs this season and 8-2 in his career, which either means he'll continue his domination or the percentages will catch up with him.
"It's exciting to think I have a chance to do it," Millwood said. "I think it's good to have all the motivation you can, but being in a pennant race you don't need more (motivation) than that."
Millwood had great support last year and needed it because he had a 4.08 ERA to go along with his 17 wins. That hasn't been the case this season. He's earned his success through hard work and using the Cy Young resources available to him.
"He probably talks to (Greg) Maddux and (John) Smoltz more than me," Glavine said. "I see him asking a lot of questions and that tells you of his commitment to not only being good, but continuing to get better."
Millwood's evening was made even sweeter by his first career home run, the fourth by a Braves starter this season. He circled the bases with a poker face, then broke out a big grin on reaching the dugout.
"When you pitch here you want to pitch well or you stick out like a sore thumb," he said. "It's the same way with hitting. I don't want to be the worst-hitting pitcher here." ...
Brian Jordan breathed a sigh of relief at finally surpassing 104 RBI, which was his career high-water mark (1996) before driving in a pair of runs Tuesday night and reaching 105 RBI. That's the best total by a Braves right fielder since David Justice had 120 RBI in 1993.
"It's about time," he said. "I should have reached it three weeks ago. I really didn't set my sights on anything (at the start of the season) except getting 100 RBI, scoring 100 runs and hitting .300 To me (105 RBI) is a sign I'm getting better each year."
Hitting behind Mark McGwire last season, Jordan drove in 91 runs in 564 at-bats. He had 83 RBI at the end of July this year, but his production has slowed because of a sore right hand. It's taken some experimenting with his stance and mental toughness to forget about the pain and begin driving the ball again.
"I feel like my confidence is coming back," he said. "But I feel my bat speed is so slow. I'm hanging tough and putting the ball in play." ...
Eddie Perez had his first three hits of the trip Tuesday night, hitting a fastball each time, thanks to some advice he received from Andres Galarraga in the dugout after striking out while chasing a high fastball in his first at-bat.
"He told me to look for the fastball all the way," Perez said. "I didn't realize I wasn't doing that until he told me."
Galarraga had a huge influence on Perez, a fellow Venezuelan last season, and not surprisingly Perez responded with a career-best .336 average. Without Galarraga's advice and keen insights to rely on this season, Perez has struggled to a .248 average.
"During batting practice he's always behind the cage telling me what to do to prepare for the game," Perez said. "Even during the game he'll ask me why I do something or what happened."