Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Ace in the Hole?

Publicly, the Phillies have talked all season long about their desire to resign Kevin Millwood this off-season, after his contract is up. Privately, though, they must be wondering whether he really is the No. 1 guy they envisioned him to be when they shipped Johnny Estrada to the Braves for him last off-season.

Indeed, both Philadelphia papers, deconstructing last night's bitter loss to the Marlins, note that the putative ace fell apart awfully quickly after dominating the Fish for six innings. The Daily News's Sam Donnellon observes that while Millwood hasn't put his team in position to win as often as he did last year, these Phils aren't exactly those Braves:

Millwood has been mediocre, and he has been brilliant. His April no-hitter, his 7-1 start, fueled the Phillies when even [Jim] Thome couldn't hit a lick. It's been a crapshoot since then, but Millwood has been good enough this September -- good enough if he were still a Brave.

There, his margin of error was great. Especially at this time of the year. On his current team, with a bullet-riddled bullpen and a maddeningly inconsistent lineup, it has been as slim as one bad pitch. The Phillies are not on a respirator today because of Kevin Millwood. He's not even near the top of the malpractice list, not nearly as guilty of wasting so many great efforts this season as such players as Pat Burrell and Jose Mesa. But it could have been much different if, this September, he were the guy from last September.

In the Inquirer, Phil Sheridan says last night's loss puts the Phillies "in a dung heap" and writes: "This is what being the ace of a staff is all about. This is the guy the Phillies wanted out there with the stakes at their highest. Millwood, who came to Philadelphia looking to play that role, was not up to it. Not last night."

Still, Sheridan defends Larry Bowa's decision to leave an obviously laboring Millwood in the game to pitch to Jeff Conine, but notes the result reveals that the Phillies may not have the lights-out stopper they thought they had: "[Bowa]'s right in this case. You go with Millwood. You go with your ace. And if he's truly an ace, he gets Conine out. And if he's not, well, he turns around and watches the ball disappear between the scoreboard and the upper deck."


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