Juan Gonzalez went 3-for-4 with three RBI's in Cleveland's 4-2 win over Anaheim.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CLEVELAND -- Juan Gonzalez is turning up the heat for Most Valuable Player consideration and a massive salary reward if he becomes a free agent in October.
Rookie left-hander C.C. Sabathia, briefly a Mahoning Valley Scrapper just two summers ago, has become the Indians' most consistent starting pitcher.
Saturday, Gonzalez and Sabathia teamed up to lead Cleveland to its fifth victory in six games, defeating the Anaheim Angels 4-2 at Jacobs Field.
Gonzalez drove in three runs to improve his American League-leading RBI total to 110 while the 21-year-old Sabathia (13-4) limited the Angels to two runs on three hits after a shaky start.
"It seems like every time we need a big win, C.C. is on the mound and gives it to us," said manager Charlie Manuel after Sabathia became the first Tribe rookie to win 13 games since Dennis Eckersley in 1975.
Nice control: "He was outstanding today," said Manuel after Sabathia retired the Angels in order in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings. "He had good control away and his curveball did better than his changeup."
The left-hander said he "was all over the place early, but from the middle of he second inning on, I felt I had real good control."
After 107 pitches, Manuel wasted no time removing Sabathia in the seventh inning after Tim Salmon hit a two-out single, earning the skipper a loud chorus of boos from the sellout crowd.
"I felt like a [WWF bad guy] wrassler," said Manuel of the ovation that greeted Sabathia's removal.
Manuel said he didn't hesitate with the hook because a homer would wipe out Sabathia's strong outing.
Sabathia said, "I kind of knew that if another guy got on I was going to come out."
Rookie reliever Danys Baez and closer Bob Wickman shut down the Angels the rest of the way, but Baez received a boost when left fielder Marty Cordova made a sliding catch on Bengie Molina's line drive to end the seventh inning.
Gonzalez is enjoying one of the best seasons of his 12-year major-league career.
His 3-for-4 day improved his batting average to .346, second on the team only to second baseman Roberto Alomar.
Early lead: Gonzalez put the Tribe ahead 2-0 in his first at-bat with a homer into the right-field bullpen.
After Alomar drew a two-out walk against Angels starter Pat Rapp, Gonzalez looked at two pitches before connecting for his 29th homer.
Manuel said he's surprised the right-handed slugger hasn't sent more balls over the right-field fence.
"He's big and strong," Manuel said. "When we first got him, I thought he would hit more that way."
In his last 11 games, Gonzalez is batting .395 with two homers and 15 RBIs.
The Angels responded with their own two-run homer in the second inning. One out after Garrett Anderson's lead-off single, Tim Salmon fouled off a 3-2 pitch from Sabathia, then sent his next pitch over the center-field wall.
Eddie Taubensee's lead-off walk helped the Tribe break the 2-2 deadlock. Kenny Lofton reached base on a fielder's choice and took second base on Omar Vizquel's groundout.
Following another Alomar walk, Gonzalez punched the ball through the right side for an RBI single.
Burks delivers: Ellis Burks, who's is recovering from a broken thumb that continues to hurt, followed with a hit to almost the exact same location to score Alomar with the Indians' fourth run. It was only Burks' fourth RBI in 32 games.
The Indians were poised to blow the Angels out in the fifth inning when a freak baserunning blunder struck. With one out and Alomar at first base, Gonzalez powered the ball to deep center field.
Center-fielder Darin Erstad ran back to the fence as if the ball were in his sights, but he twisted back towards right field as the ball hit the fence to his left.
Alomar, who said he thought Erstad would catch the ball, remained close to first base so he could tag up and advance on a long out.
Watching the ball sail, Gonzalez rounded first, passed Alomar and was called out by second base umpire Wally Bell.
"The [first base] coach [Ted Uhlaender] was looking at the ball, Juan was looking at the ball, I was looking at the ball," Alomar said. "All three of us made mistakes."
Manuel disagreed, saying that it was Gonzalez's responsibility to watch when the ball is in front of him.
It's one of the few miscues the slugger has been involved with of late.
Eckstin ss3000Lofton cf3100
Erstad cf4000Vizquel ss4000
Glaus 3b4000RAlmr 2b2210
GAndsn lf3110JGnzlez rf4133
Spiezio 1b3000Burks dh4021
Salmon rf3122Brnyan dh0000
BMolna c3000MCdva lf3000
Wooten dh2000JolCbra lf1000
OPlmro dh1000Frymn 3b4000
Gil 2b2000WCrdro 1b3000
AKndy 2b1000Tbnsee c1000
LOB--Anaheim 2, Cleveland 6. HR--Salmon (12), JGonzalez (29). SB--Eckstein (14), GAnderson (9). CS--GAnderson (5).
Rapp L,5-106 1-354445
Sabathia W,13-46 2-332226
Umpires--Home, Hirschbeck, M.; First, Kulpa; Second, Bell; Third, Foster, Marty.