I’ve been extremely lucky to cover some great sporting events over the years and one of the most memorable was the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park.
I was working for Fox 19 in Cincinnati at the time and when three Cincinnati Reds were picked for the National League squad (Barry Larkin, Sean Casey, and rookie Scott Williamson), I followed them to Boston to cover the local angle.
The star of that All-Star Game was Pedro Martinez, who struck out 5 of the first 6 National League batters, but the highlight of night was seeing 80-year-old Ted Williams enter the stadium on a golf cart before being surrounded by the American and National League players on the pitcher’s mound where he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
One of those 1999 All-Stars is currently pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox – Kevin Millwood – who tossed a scoreless 6th inning that night as a 24-year-old member of the Atlanta Braves.
“It’s one of those moments in your life that gives you the chills,” Millwood told me. “I still get them today thinking about that pre-game ceremony. When you think about how great of a player Ted Williams was – that definitely added a lot to that experience.”
Millwood almost certainly won’t be an All-Star again, but he’s making a pretty convincing case that he can still pitch.
The 36-year-old righty is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in his last 3 starts for Pawtucket and will look to run his winning streak to four on Thursday night at Louisville.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better every time out,” Millwood said. “That’s all that I can do right now. If I go out and pitch well and continue to improve, then it’s totally up to (Boston). I feel like I can still get people out and win ballgames at the major league level. Hopefully at some point they’ll feel the same way.”
Millwood is getting Triple-A hitters out with guile more than gas. In Kevin’s last start, his fastball was typically timed at 88 mph on the stadium radar gun, and peaked at 90 mph.
“If I stay right there, I think I’ll be fine,” Millwood said. “My game is locating and keeping guys off balance. The velocity is fun for the fans and it’s even fun for us when you have a guy out there throwing in the high 90s, but for me, if I can stay in the high 80s to low 90s, I think I can get anybody out.”
“He knows how to get people out,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. “I’m sure the stuff is not what it used to be. I saw him as a kid coming up in ’97 when I was coaching with the Yankees and he was young flame-thrower back then. Now, he’s a crafty veteran with a lot of experience and he sure knows how to get guys out. He throws strikes, gets ahead of hitters, and has done a real nice job. He’s fun to watch and he’s a total professional here with the other guys.”
“As a younger pitcher, it was more about the velocity and I got a lot of strikeouts up in the zone,” Millwood said. “In my middle years, I still had pretty decent velocity but I knew how to pitch and I used my off-speed pitches a little bit better. Now it’s more about keeping the ball down, hitting my spots, and trying to keep guys off balance.”
(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
The 14-year major league veteran signed with Boston on May 19th after injuries to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka led the Red Sox to increase their starting pitching depth. Since then, Lackey has returned from the disabled list, Tim Wakefield has gone 4-1 after replacing Matsuzaka in the rotation, and Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller have also been given opportunities to start in Boston.
Is Millwood wondering where that leaves him?
“Not at all,” Kevin said. “I think everything is coming together and in the best-case scenario, I get a chance to pitch in Boston. But at the same time, I think that there are a lot of other teams out there that need help and if I keep pitching well, either somebody will come calling or I’ll go home and go fishing.
“Boston’s been great and they’ve taken good care of me. They’ve made it clear that I’ll be able to look elsewhere if an opportunity comes along. But my first thought and the best-case scenario for me would be to get the chance to pitch in Boston.”
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The PawSox conclude their 4-game series in Louisville on Thursday night at 7:05 as Millwood squares off against RHP Scott Carroll. I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.
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