likes pickup trucks, country music, fishing and challenging hitters with a
steady supply of fastballs. Almost nothing about his manner is oblique,
including his answer when asked why, as the American League's 2005 ERA champion
(2.86, for the Indians), he would enlist for five years of duty in the
militarized zone that is Ameriquest Field--home to the Rangers and pitching
infamy. "Only Texas gave me the [contract] length," says Millwood, who
also drew interest from the Orioles and the Nationals.
should serve him well in Ameriquest, where pitchers' dreams--especially those
of pitchers with National League pedigrees--go to die. Over the past three
seasons only altitude-enhanced Coors Field in Denver has inflated the rate of
runs scored more than Ameriquest.
Since the stadium
opened in 1994, Texas has used 75 starting pitchers. Only two of them--Kenny
Rogers in '95 and 2002 and Ken Hill in '96--were able to keep their ERA under
4.00 while throwing 200 innings. The world champion White Sox had four such
modestly accomplished pitchers last year alone. Thirty of those 75 humbled
Rangers toiled just in the past three seasons under manager Buck Showalter;
none of them impressed enough to make even 10 starts in each of those
With that history
in mind owner Tom Hicks and rookie general manager Jon Daniels made certain to
bring up the Ameriquest issue with Millwood while courting him as a free agent
in December. Millwood explained he was concerned only with pitching well enough
to win, not posting another pretty ERA. Hicks smiled and forked over $60
million for five years, clinching the deal by throwing in a round of golf at
the home of the Masters, Augusta National, where he is a member.
think you can set your sights on winning an ERA title there," Millwood, 31,
says of Ameriquest. "The bottom line is, the guy I'm pitching against is
pitching in the same place under the same conditions. So all I need to do is be
a little bit better than the guy I'm pitching against that day."
In addition to
Millwood, the Rangers fortified their rotation by trading for Adam Eaton, 28,
from the Padres and Vicente Padilla, 28, from the Phillies. Like Millwood, who
was 9-11 with Cleveland in the only AL season of his nine-year career, both are
righthanded pitchers raised in the NL. Texas's sorry history of NL �migr�s
includes, of course, Chan Ho Park, who left the Dodgers in January 2002 for a
five-year, $65 million contract. Park won 22 games in 3 1/2 years for Texas
before being traded to the Padres last July.
"Last time I
checked," Eaton says, "I'm not Chan Ho Park."
Eaton, Padilla and righthander Kameron Loe, 24, entrenched as the top four
starters, the Rangers at least enjoyed some rare certainty in March about their
rotation. "Last year we had one starter set going into spring
training," says pitching coach Mark Connor. "This year we're looking
for one. It's a much better feeling."
Still, no one on
the current staff has thrown 200 innings in either of the past two seasons.
Texas doesn't need exceptional pitching; even middling innings-eaters are
welcome behind an offense that last season became only the third team, after
the famed 1927 and '61 Yankees, to outhomer its opponents by more than 100. But
unlike those championship clubs, the Rangers won only 79 times and finished 16
games out of first place.
The Texas lineup
figures to be just as potent this season with shortstop Michael Young, 29, the
AL batting champion; slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, 25; and
centerfielder Brad Wilkerson, 28, whose numbers should skyrocket after leaving
cavernous RFK Stadium in Washington. Regardless, the Rangers' hopes for
contending will hold up only as well as their pitching, a shaky proposition for
a place with such a high attrition rate for hurlers. Millwood, unflinching as
ever, knows the task begins with him. "It's tough to say one guy is the
Number 1 guy," Millwood says, "but if it takes the pressure off the
other guys, then I'm all for it."