Millwood dominates on Opening Day

Millwood dominates Tribe

ARLINGTON -- From the ceremonial first pitch thrown by their former owner to the last play of the game, the Rangers were near-flawless on Opening Day.

If the Rangers are determined to get off to a strong start this season, this is a pretty good way to do just that: exceptional starting pitching, strong defense and the expected offense. Even the weather -- 50 degrees but all sunshine -- was terrific on an afternoon in which Kevin Millwood pitched seven outstanding innings and the Rangers ended a five-game Opening Day losing streak with a 9-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

"A perfect day," second baseman Ian Kinsler said.

"We played a great all-around game," designated hitter Hank Blalock said. "It was a great game."

A sellout crowd of 49,916 that included former President [and former owner] George W. Bush, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and soldiers from 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood watched as a four-run second inning and three-run home run by Blalock in the fifth allowed the Rangers to beat 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee.

"We did what we wanted to do," manager Ron Washington said, echoing his pregame talk with his team. "We wanted to pitch well, and we wanted to play very good defense. A very solid day and a great beginning."

The Rangers, playing in front of the eighth-largest regular-season crowd in Ballpark history, won for the first time on Opening Day since 2003. It's only the third time in eight years that they've won their home opener.

"You couldn't have scripted it better than that," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "That's what we need to do: start a snowball on Day 1 and keep it going."

It's the first time Millwood has won on Opening Day since 2003, when he was with the Phillies. He was starting his fourth straight Opening Day for the Rangers -- a new club record -- but this was the first time he has come away with a victory.

"Every Opening Day is exciting, but when you've got all those soldiers out there and the President is here, it was pretty amazing," Millwood said. "I had to calm myself down before I got started. I was pretty excited."

He was also pretty sharp. Taking advantage of his offseason conditioning program, Millwood allowed one run on five hits, walked a batter and struck out five. He threw 113 pitches and was not at all tired at the end. He credited that to the conditioning.

"It made a huge difference," Millwood said. "I felt I could still keep on pitching. That's a pretty good sign when you feel I can throw more than 110-115 pitches and still get something on the ball."

Millwood, who put on a clinic pitching inside effectively all afternoon, did not allow an extra-base hit. He almost escaped without yielding a run, but with two outs and runners at the corners in the seventh, he bounced an over-thrown breaking ball past catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia that brought home the Indians' only run. Millwood then ended his afternoon by striking out Kelly Shoppach.

"He threw the ball very well," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "He has a little bit different approach. He's working a little bit quicker, and he's doing some things with the baseball that I haven't seen him do before. But, like always, he makes pitches. He throws the ball where he wants to, and he's always been a guy who does a good job following his game plan."

Millwood said he and catcher Saltalamacchia were in sync all afternoon and that made it easier on him. Saltalamacchia also made it easier on Millwood by bringing home the first two runs off Lee.

A one-out single by Blalock and Byrd's double put runners on second and third. Lee struck out Chris Davis, but Saltalamacchia delivered a big two-out hit, lining a single to right to score both runners. A double by Elvis Andrus and a two-run single by Kinsler gave the Rangers a 4-0 lead.

Blalock hit a three-run home run in the fifth and Saltalamacchia added a homer in the eighth to put a finish on his first Opening Day start as the Rangers No. 1 catcher: 2-for-4, two runs scored, three RBIs while coaxing a superb performance from his pitchers.

"I was as nervous as anything," Saltalamacchia said. "I was just hoping to get the ball back to Millwood. But, coming into Spring Training and doing as well as I did, to do this in the first game means everything. Hopefully it will continue to build throughout the season."

That's what Opening Day is for, get something started right away and get it started right.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.