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Grand Central elation



Published: Wed, August 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Cleveland has its largest lead of the season.

By TOM WILLIAMS

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

CLEVELAND -- In a battle to see which bullpen could implode most spectacularly, Minnesota outdid the Indians in Tuesday's A.L. Central Division showdown at Jacobs Field.

Down to their final out and trailing 7-4, the Indians torched Twins closer LaTroy Hawkins with four consecutive hits to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Tribe went on to win 8-7 in the 11th when Kenny Lofton led off with a freakish triple against Bob Wells and scored on Juan Gonzalez's bases-loaded hit to deep center.

The victory was Cleveland's eighth in 11 games against the Twins and gives the Indians a 21/2-game lead in the Central standings, their largest of the season.

Minnesota lost its fifth straight game and is 9-23 since the All-Star break.

When Lofton's 11th-inning smash bounced off the wall, Twins right fielder Chad Allen played the carom as his right leg buckled under him.

Allen hobbled to retrieve the ball and sent it towards the infield before rolling on the ground in pain while clutching his knee as Lofton raced to third.

Lofton was unaware of what happened to the Twins' 26-year-old rookie outfielder.

Puzzled: "I knew I had a double and I looked up and [third base coach] Joel [Skinner] was still winding me," Lofton said. "I'm like, 'what's going on?' I saw on the replay what happened. I hope he's all right -- that's something you don't like to see."

Allen was taken off the field on a stretcher. After Omar Vizquel walked, the Twins intentionally walked Roberto Alomar, the AL's leading hitter, to load the bases for Gonzalez, the AL's second-leading hitter and top RBI producer.

Against a five-man infield, Gonzalez drove the ball to deep center for his 106th RBI of the season.

"The pitchers gave us a chance and that's all we ask because we are going to keep battling," Lofton said. "When we battle, things are going to happen."

Before the Indians' late-inning heroics, Minnesota roughed up Tribe closers John Rocker and Bob Wickman for four runs. Rocker blew his fourth consecutive save opportunity and his sixth since being traded to the Indians on June 23.

"I thought we had the game won going to the ninth," manager Charlie Manuel said of the Indians' 4-3 lead.

Rocker's failure wasted a strong outing by Bartolo Colon (three runs and five hits in eight innings).

With three left-handed batters due to open the Twins' ninth, Manuel said the situation was "ideal for Rocker. If I can't bring him in there ..."

Wickman, the Indians closer before the trade and not long after Rocker's arrival, said he agreed with Manuel's decision.

"I agree 100 percent -- it was a good situation to bring him in, but it didn't work out for him and it didn't work out for me," said Wickman, who pitched the scoreless 10th inning before giving way to winner Danys Baez (4-1).

In trouble: Rocker was in trouble quickly. Doug Mientkiewicz hit Rocker's first pitch sharply to the right side, where Alomar made a sliding stop and a hurried throw that bounced under first baseman Jim Thome's glove.

Rocker's next pitch hit the dirt and zipped past catcher Einar Diaz to the backstop, allowing Mientkiewicz to race to third base on the wild pitch.

After Rocker retired Corey Koskie on a groundout, he walked David Ortiz on four pitches.

Wickman took over and Torii Hunter hit the ball to shortstop Omar Vizquel for a fielder's choice and game-tying RBI.

After Hunter stole second on Wickman's next pitch, the Indians intentionally walked Jacque Jones. Weak-hitting Denny Hocking loaded the bases with an infield single and A.J. Pierzynski tripled into the right-field corner to put the Twins ahead 7-4.

With two outs and none on in the bottom of the ninth, Hawkins was one out away from his 28th save.

Lofton singled and scored on Vizquel's double.

"I was just trying to get on base because these guys [batting] behind me have been doing the job," Lofton said.

Vizquel said patience was the key against Hawkins. "We were just waiting for a pitch we could hit well."

Alomar's line drive off second baseman Luis Rivas' glove scored Vizquel.

Alomar took second base on a wild pitch then stole third, before Gonzalez doubled past Mientkiewicz to score the tying run.

Marty Cordova drove in the Indians' first three runs with homers in the second and fourth innings against Minnesota starter Eric Milton.

"Milton threw a good game at us, Colon did well and I screwed up in the ninth," Wickman said.




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