ATLANTA - When analyzing Kevin Millwood's season, it's best to ignore his overall statistics.
Forget the sub-.500 record and earned run average of 4.27.
Take, instead, his effort during the Atlanta Braves' 4-1 win over Detroit before a Turner Field crowd of 25,118 fans Wednesday.
Millwood (4-5) held the Tigers to five hits in a seasonlong 7 2/3 innings with no walks and a season-high nine strikeouts. The right-hander has given up two or fewer runs in five of his past six starts.
"Right now, I feel I'm as close to being back to where I was as I have been in a long time," Millwood said. "Early in the season, my mechanics weren't where they needed to be, but slowly things have started coming around, and I'm feeling very comfortable when I'm on the mound."
John Smoltz picked up his 22nd save with a scoreless ninth, one inning after Julio Franco and Gary Sheffield hit back-to-back homers off reliever Julio Santana to give the Braves two welcomed insurance runs.
"Those two runs were huge," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We don't get those, and it's just a one-run game going into the ninth. It might have gotten a little shaky, and that would have been a shame considering how well Kevin pitched."
Detroit starter Mike Maroth probably deserved better.
The Orlando, Fla., native, who topped Arizona's Curt Schilling and the Diamondbacks 6-3 on Friday in Phoenix, held Atlanta to one hit before the Braves (42-29) broke through in the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones to make the score 1-0.
Under normal circumstances, Maroth (1-1) might have been happy with his outing against the Braves, his favorite team as a boy.
Even after Chipper Jones' second double brought home Rafael Furcal in the sixth for Atlanta's second run, the Braves still had only five hits when Maroth was pulled with two out in the inning after an intentional walk to Andruw Jones.
Unfortunately for Maroth and the Tigers (25-44), Millwood was just a little bit better. The North Carolina native did not allow a runner past second base until Robert Fick's two-out single in the sixth inning advanced Damian Jackson over to third, before Randall Simon bounced to the mound for out No. 3.
"The key for me tonight was being able to establish my fastball," Millwood said. "I only threw one curveball up until the seventh inning. I try to figure out early what's working and what's not. When I do, I'll stick with it as long as I can. Tonight, I didn't feel I needed to change what I was doing."
Detroit, in the middle of a 12-game road trip, would rue not making the most of the opportunity.
Millwood set the Tigers down in order in the seventh and retired the first two batters in the eighth, including former Brave George Lombard, whom the Braves traded to Detroit before Wednesday's game for relief pitcher Kris Keller. Lombard flew out to Sheffield in right.
Ramon Santiago ruined the shutout when he followed Lombard with a solo homer to right, chasing Millwood, who received a standing ovation as he left the field.
"Kevin deserved that," Chipper Jones said. "It seems like he's been 3-5 for weeks. It's good to see him have the success he is."
In the bottom of the eighth, after Furcal flew out to center, Franco connected on his second homer, a shot that carried just to the left of the 390-foot mark in right-center field. Sheffield's homer, which carried just into the seats in left-center field, was his 11th of the year.
Anthony Dasher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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