MIAMI -- Just when it seems Kevin Millwood is headed for better days, his evil twin steps onto the mound and throws the rosin bag in his face.
The maddening enigma that is the Braves' No. 3 starter would have you believe he's fine, having bid adieu to his knack of missing the strike zone with his pitches.
But Millwood did nothing to inspire confidence Saturday night, as he lasted just five innings and gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits and three walks in a 14-inning 5-4 loss to the Florida Marlins before a gathering of 18,784 at Pro Player Stadium.
"We were swinging the bats good and I felt I was pitching good, and all of a sudden it unraveled," Millwood said.
Millwood, who seemed to have the league at his mercy in his first two starts, gave away 3-0 and 4-1 leads. The bullpen, pressed into duty by the righthander's early departure, pitched eight shutout innings until the 14th, when Preston Wilson spoiled Kevin Gryboski's major league debut, shattering his bat in tapping a 55-foot infield hit with the bases loaded and two outs, sending Mike Redmond to the plate with the winning run.
The Braves had a shot at scoring the go-ahead run in the 11th when Keith Lockhart doubled, but Rafael Furcal's bunt was gloved by catcher Redmond, whose throw nipped Lockhart at third. Furcal was then caught stealing and a promising rally died with Andruw Jones' swinging strikeout.
Marlins starter Ryan Dempster and four relievers combined to shutout the Braves over the final 11 innings. The two teams collectively stranded 31 men on base.
"We've got to win that one," manager Bobby Cox said. "We had a million chances."
Suffice to say, this was not Millwood's finest hour. Cliff Floyd doubled in the second, stole third, and scored on Derrek Lee's tapper to short. Millwood opened the home half of the fourth with walks to Floyd and Mike Lowell, then Alex Gonzalez's double scored one run and Redmond bounced out for another run.
Millwood, who had walked three in his first two starts (14 1/3 innings), matched that total in four innings. His command ebbed and flowed like the tide. He retired the side in order three times in the first five innings, but yielded walks, hits, and runs in the other two.
Millwood waded into more trouble in the sixth after Floyd and Lowell singled. He hit Lee with a pitch, then Darren Holmes was summoned to face Gonzalez with the bases loaded and no outs. Millwood's line: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 4 R.
"I think I was better than it looked, but I don't think everything was quite as good as the last game," Millwood said.
Holmes doused the flames, though not before catcher Javy Lopez couldn't handle first baseman B.J. Surhoff's low throw on Redmond's ground ball, allowing Floyd to score the game-tying run.
With the Marlins needing Dempster to stand tall, he buckled instead, walking two of the first three batters he faced. One pitch later, the Braves had their first run, Gary Sheffield singling home Jones. Surhoff walked, then Vinny Castilla assumed the team RBI lead with a single to left, sending in Chipper Jones and Sheffield.
In the third, singles by Chipper Jones and Surhoff set up Castilla, who knocked in his third run of the night by lashing a single to center to make it 4-1.
That was the sum of Atlanta's offense. The Braves had six hits (five singles) in the final 11 innings against Dempster and the bullpen.
"It seems like we're scoring early, then shutting it down," second baseman Marcus Giles said. "I don't know whether to tell you it's the pitcher bearing down after that or we're doing something different at the plate."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.