BY Art Thiel 08:02PM 05/23/2012

Thiel: Mariners' Millwood & Liddi: Who'da thunk?

Alex Liddi’s grand slam and another gem from starter Kevin Millwood made for unlikely heroes in a series win over the suddenly ordinary looking Texas Rangers.

Kevin Millwood ran his streak of scoreless innings to 17 in the Mariners' 5-3 over the Rangers Wednesday. /Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

Kevin Millwood speaks with a Carolina drawl so deep that a bread truck can go missing in it. For Alex Liddi, enough of his native Italian accent remains that his halting English seems a swoon-maker among women of a certain age.

The Texas Rangers, meanwhile, are speechless and feature-less. Charmed, they were not.

Millwood pantsed them with six shutout innings and Liddi pummeled them with a grand slam. The 5-3 triumph Wednesday afternoon sent away the two-time defending American League champions with losses in two of three Seattle games and a feeling of, well, ordinariness.

The Mariners, meanwhile, have won five of six after losing six of seven. While euphoria is entirely uncalled for, getting premium production from acquisitions of minimal purported value is worth at least a giggle.

“It’s fun beating them,” said Dustin Ackley, “because we don’t get to do it too much.”

At 37, Millwood has been around the baseball world and was figured to be on fumes. At 23, Liddi was from the other side of the world, a talented curiosity but unlikely to flourish for awhile, if at all.

But Millwood in his last three games has absolutely stuffed the opposition — the Yankees, the Rockies and Wednesday the Rangers, three hits and a walk over six shutout innings, extending his shutout innings to 17 in a row, one short of his career best.

While he is unlikely to threaten the the 59 innings in a row of Dodgers’ stalwart Orel Hersheiser, one of baseball’s greatest records, the string was as unexpected as, well, Liddi emerging as a potential power bat in 2012.

For Millwood, it seems as if he gets a little better with each game, even each inning.

“I don’t care who you are in this game, if you got confidence, you’re dangerous,” he said that Southern baritone that makes everything he says just a little more sincere. “I just felt like I was going to have a good game and throw the ball well. When I missed, the guys made good plays behind me, or (the Rangers) fouled it off.

“Confidence goes a long ways in this game.”

Confidence seems to be seeping into games of numerous teammates. It could be said that the Mariners came within a few feet of sweeping the Rangers, denied only by Josh Hamilton’s catch at the centerfield wall Tuesday of a potential grand slam by Casper Wells that would have thwarted the eventual 3-1 Texas win.

It wasn’t that they dominated the Rangers as much as they hung with them and parlayed some breaks. Wednesday that happened in the fifth, preceding Liddi’s thump.

Michael Saunders led off with a walk — one of five by Rangers starter Scott Feldman — and Mike Carp blooped a soft single beyond the reach of shortstop Elvis Andrus. Both advanced when Feldman’s pickoff attempt at second base went off the glove of second baseman Ian Kinsler into center field.

After a groundout held all in position, Texas manager Ron Washington made the strategic gaffe of the game, electing to walk intentionally Dustin Ackley to get to Liddi for the righty-righty matchup.

On the first pitch, Liddi took Feldman deep with a hard liner that just barely made it over the manual scoreboard in left field. Already steeped in American culture, Liddi knew to take competitive insult from the intentional walk.

“As s hitter, it’s always a good challenge,” he said. “You want to do it when they walk the guy in front of you. I was pumped that happened. No matter what I did (with the at-bat), I was looking forward to it.”

Besides offering the game’s definitive blow, Liddi’s two hits brought his season average to .273, second-highest among the Mariners and more incentive to find him a regular spot. He’s now starting in left field, where he has never played before now, which showed in the second inning when he lost track of both ball and wall in the left field corner and let a ball drop for a double.

He’s a third baseman by trade, a first baseman by hobby and now an outfielder by necessity, meaning the need to keep his bat in the lineup. If he wanders for awhile in left like a mother bear looking for a cub, so what?

“Third base, first base, left field,” said manager Eric Wedge. “He gives us options.”

Liddi has a quick explanation for his upward arc:  “Getting at-ats every day helps. Good things happen.”

As with Millwood, the more, the better.


YourThoughts

  • maqman

    It’s good to see one of GMZ’s recaps make a difference.  As you mentioned the other day Millwood’s becoming a better trade chip who should have contenders lusting for him at the deadline.

    • Artthiel

       Not sure about lust yet, but like — especially with an extra playoff berth available — is plausible. Hell, he’s 12 years younger than Moyer.

  • jafabian

    Millwood must really want out of Seattle because he’s making himself some attractive trade bait.  I’m sure Jack Z. has some prospects in mind for him.

    • Artthiel

      Definitely helping his trade value. Too bad same can’t be said of Chone Figgins.