Kinsler, Millwood power Rangers to victory

Kinsler, Millwood power Rangers

ARLINGTON -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels watched the first inning from the press box as Ian Kinsler worked the count to 3-and-1 against Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez.

"Come on Kins, just get on base," Daniels pleaded quietly, right before Kinsler smashed a four-seam fastball from Rodriguez into the left-field seats for a home run.

"That'll work," Daniels said with a smile as he watched the ball disappear into the stands.

A leadoff home run proved a nice tonic for a dragging offense on Tuesday night, combining with the pitching of Kevin Millwood to give the Rangers a 6-1 victory over the Astros at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Kinsler added a second home run with two outs in the second inning against Rodriguez as the Rangers (36-27) went on to their fourth straight victory over the Astros (29-33) and clinched the Silver Boot for the third straight year. They've also won it in five of the past six years.

"It's good to win it," outfielder David Murphy said. "If it signifies wins, I'm all for it."

Millwood won for the third straight start. His past two wins have come after a two-game losing streak by the Rangers.

"Milly was outstanding tonight," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

"Classic Millwood," third baseman Michael Young said.

Kinsler's first-inning blast was the ninth time in his career that he has led off the game with a home run, a new club record. It was also his third multihomer game this season, and he's the only leadoff hitter in the Major Leagues with more than one. Kinsler entered the game just 4-for-33 with no RBIs in his past eight games.

"The day off [on Monday] helped," Kinsler said. "I was able to sit back, relax and think about what I've been doing and just get my mind right. Get back to being aggressive on the fastball. I've been sitting on the offspeed stuff, and fastballs have been beating me while I've been pulling the offspeed stuff into the third-base stands."

The Rangers badly needed some sort of offensive record or milestone because their offense entered the game hitting .197 on the homestand and averaging just 2.6 runs over its past eight game. It's only the fourth time in the past 14 seasons that the Rangers have averaged less than three runs per game over an eight-game stretch.

This time the Rangers jumped on Rodriguez (5-6) for six runs in the first four innings. Marlon Byrd had an RBI single in the first, Kinsler went deep in the second and Murphy did so in the third and Michael Young had a two-run double in the fourth. Young entered the game with just two RBIs in his past 13 games.

"Those guys putting up runs on the board early made my job easier," Millwood said.

It all started with Kinsler's first-inning home run. He has been through some struggles of late, but Washington has not thought for a moment about taking him out of the leadoff spot.

"I have confidence in him," Washington said. "He has been there before and he'll get out of it. He's not like one of our young guys struggling. Kinsler has something to fall back on. I have confidence in him and I'm hoping tonight is the night that gets him going."

Millwood allowed just one run over seven innings in raising his record to 7-4 with a 2.62 ERA. Astros catcher Ivan Rodriguez, on the night he tied a Major League record for most career games caught, delivered the only run with his sixth home run of the season in the top of the fifth.

A crowd of 21,676 -- lowest for a Lone Star Series game in Arlington -- gave Rodriguez a standing ovation as he circled the bases, but the Rangers were still leading 6-1 and that was all the Astros could muster against Millwood. It's the first earned run Millwood has allowed in three starts and 21 2/3 innings this month.

"The biggest part of it has been the defense," Millwood said. "I'm not striking out a ton of guys, but the guys are making plays behind me. I thought my stuff was good tonight but I didn't locate it very well. I did when I had to."

He allowed four hits, walked three, struck out six and -- as seems customary in his starts these days -- he took two more ground balls off his bare hand. Both times he got outs on them.

"I keep doing that, and it's going to be a nub before long," Millwood said.

"I thought he could have been had tonight," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "I didn't think he was that sharp, but we didn't have good at-bats in the ballgame for the most part. When you get big league pitchers and let them keep hanging around, hey might find it, too, and they will get better deeper into the game."

Millwood is now 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA in eight starts at home.

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