SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners had two on with two out in the sixth inning when Willie Bloomquist hit a high chopper toward the right side hole. First baseman Brad Wilkerson ranged to his right, grabbed the ball and fired a backhand flip to pitcher Kevin Millwood, who was rumbling over to cover first base. Millwood caught the ball off-balance, stumbled over the bag and went tumbling hard to the ground. Millwood ended up sprawled in the dirt, his 2007 season coming to an inglorious end, but Bloomquist was out.
"They don't call me graceful for nothing," Millwood said. The Rangers Opening Day starter went down fighting to the end. But at the end of the fight, he went down again. Millwood brought his season to a close by giving up five runs (four earned) over seven innings and losing to the Mariners, 5-1, at Safeco Field on Saturday night. The Rangers' second loss in a row to the Mariners left them tied with the Oakland Athletics for third place in the American League West going into the final day of the season. Millwood threw 119 pitches, the most by a Rangers starter this year. But it was only good enough to get him through seven innings and the Rangers, with rookie starter A.J. Murray (on a pitch count) pitching the season finale, are going to finish a season without a complete game for the first time in club history. "I thought he was going to give us nine innings," Rangers manger Ron Washington said. "But they made him work in the sixth. I was actually looking at a complete game if he had continued to pitch like he had up to that point." Sammy Sosa, in his last start for the Rangers, was 1-for-4 with a single and is now hitting .252 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs in 411 at-bats. He leads the Rangers in home runs -- one more than Wilkerson and Ian Kinsler -- and those will be his final numbers unless he pinch-hits on Sunday. "I'm very happy," Sosa said. "I'll tell you why. When they started bringing in the young guys and my role changed, when I did get my opportunities, I still produced. I'm happy because I finished this season strong no matter what. I still went out and did my job." Millwood finishes with a record of 10-14 with a 5.16 ERA. The 14 losses are a career high, and this is the first time he has finished a season with an ERA over five. His 172 2/3 innings were the third lowest in his 10 full seasons as a Major League starter. "I hope as a team we learn from a lot of things," Millwood said. "Me personally, it was a bad year, no doubt about it. As a team, it was a bad year. We had some good things happen, but not very much." Obviously this was not the season that Millwood expected or the Rangers needed from him. He'll still lead the Rangers with 10 wins, but that will be the lowest by their season leader in a non-strike season since 1973. "We needed more from him, but we needed more from [Vicente] Padilla," Washington said. "We needed [Brandon] McCarthy to stay healthy and we needed [Kameron] Loe to stay healthy. He could have been better, but there were a lot of times where he went out there and gave us everything he had." Millwood wasn't that bad on Saturday. He gave up 11 hits, but 10 were singles and a few were grounders that found holes through the infield. Four straight two-out singles in the third scored one run and one of them was a sharp grounder right at third baseman Travis Metcalf, who couldn't make an inning-ending play on a tricky hop. One of the two runs in the sixth inning was unearned because right fielder Nelson Cruz's error. "I felt good," Millwood said. "I didn't feel out of my element. It was one of those days where I felt good, but the results weren't there. At least I was able to stay out there awhile." He figures to be out there again on Opening Day in 2008. He is still the Rangers No. 1 starter and he knows he will be a big part of their team next season. But he has some things to do between now and then to get better. The Rangers need much more from a guy who won 16 games for them in 2006. "I'm just going to try and get into really good shape this winter," Millwood said. "Come into Spring Training in good shape and go from there. I don't feel I was in bad shape, but as you get older, the tougher this job is going to be and I've got to work harder at it." He doesn't need to for it to get any tougher than it did this year.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.