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Millar toughs it out through his slump

He may soon get a Little bit of rest

Kevin Millar has never resorted to any slump-breaking tactic quite as desperate as that of John Roskos, his one-time minor league roommate in Portland, Maine.

``Roskos used to take a shower with his entire uniform on, spikes and all,'' Millar said yesterday. ``I'm more of a facial hair guy myself.

``I'll change up my facial hair.''

These days, there is as much hair on Millar's freshly shaven chin as there are hits in his bat. The mustache that wraps around the corners of his mouth is still there, but Millar is searching for a look more compatible with the way he was swinging at the start of the season, before he had to wrestle with a September slump that has made him one lonesome cowboy.

``They stink, but they make you stronger,'' said Millar of a 1-for-24 slump that had dropped his average to a season-low .271 entering last night's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

``As much as they hurt you, as much as they make you want to cry, make you cringe, make you throw up, you've got to get through it. Tonight I might get hot and get locked in for the next 10 days.''

Millar has logged more playing time with the Sox this season than he ever did with the Marlins. His 23 home runs and 90 RBIs are career highs, but so are his 508 at-bats and 101 strikeouts. He's batting just .235 in 42 games since Aug. 1, and of his 36 hits, only nine (3 doubles, 6 home runs) have been extra-base hits, which accounts for his subpar .380 slugging percentage in that span.

Manager Grady Little suggested he may give Millar a rest in the next few days if the slump continues.

``I feel pretty strong,'' Millar said. ``I've beaten myself up mentally the last couple of days, but physically I'm fine.''

Millar remembers Tony Gwynn, the former Padre and future Hall of Famer, offering counsel when Millar was going through an 0-for-25 skid in 1998, his first season in the big leagues: ``You have to go through these times, as much as they stink, to appeciate the good times. They're going to happen two or three times a year - maybe for the good ones, only once a year.''

Take a look around, and there are plenty of good hitters lately who have been battling major slumps.

Start with Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, whose 7-for-53 downturn is the longest prolonged slump of his career. Jason Giambi, the Yankee first baseman and two-time MVP, recently went 1 for 40. Ichiro is batting .241 since the All-Star break. His Seattle teammate, Bret Boone, is at .240 over the same span.

Even Bill Mueller, the American League's leading hitter at the start of the night, was hitless in 10 at-bats until he doubled to open the sixth last night.

On Sunday night, Millar took home a DVD made especially for him by Billy Broadbent, the team's video coordinator.

``I wanted to see my stance in April, when I knew I was feeling great,'' he said. ``I wanted to look at what I've changed.

``You make a lot of adjustments during the season, different stances and all, and I wanted to see what it was like when I was swinging well, when everything was free and loose.

``Yeah, I saw something. That doesn't mean I'm going to get four hits tonight, but it helps me clear my mind.

``Even though I may know what I'm doing wrong, that doesn't mean I can correct it right away.

``You come up in the eighth inning, runners on first and third, that's crunch time.

``You don't have time to think about mechanics. You're just trying to crush the ball. That's the mental aspect of baseball.''

Slumps can be as much about poor pitch selection as bad swings, Millar said.

``Maybe I swing at a neck-high pitch, and instead of being 0 and 1, I'm 0 and 2,'' he said. ``I'm swinging at balls.

``It's not fun, but everyone goes through it and you've got to stay strong.''

Some players, in good times and bad, prefer to hide behind newly drawn red lines designed to keep out nosy intruders.

Millar, in good times and bad, is of a different temperament.

``When I'm going good, people write that I'm 12 for 25 or whatever, so anything they say now is deserved, too,'' he said.

``It's times like these you need your teammates to pick you up. While Nomar and I have been struggling, David Ortiz carried us. You lose a couple in a row like we did this weekend, you notice it more.

``But guys have been coming up to me. Trot [Nixon] came by, told me not to worry. Other guys. This is when you need to be a team.''

On his first at-bat, Millar lunged for a 1-and-1 pitch and tapped out to the pitcher. He drew a full-count walk in the fourth, and in the fifth, he lined a run-scoring single to center.

A slump-breaker? That's to be determined.

But it was a start.

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