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Indians return on a roll



Published: Wed, September 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Tuesday night was a night to remember at Jacobs Field, and not just because of last week's tragedies.

It was a night to remember the Kenny Lofton of old; to remember why the Indians signed Chuck Finley.

And to remember that the Indians are a first-place team and the Royals aren't.

Keyed by two Lofton home runs, a grand slam by Travis Fryman and a solid outing by Finley, the Indians beat Kansas City 11-2 to stay six games up on Minnesota in their first game since Sept. 10.

"I know I'll remember this game," Fryman said. "There was a sense of pride and a sense of togetherness. The way Kenny started, that was almost poetic. He always seems to rise to the occasion."

Again: Lofton led off the bottom of the first with his 20th career leadoff home run. He then duplicated the feat in the third, depositing his 14th home run of the season to give the Tribe an early 2-0 lead.

The homers helped electrify the crowd of 34,795, who chanted "USA, USA" after the national anthem and were treated with a performance of "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch.

"I think the fans understood what was going on and they tried to make the best of this situation," Lofton said. "We all have to stick together."

For the first four innings, Lofton was the only batter able to figure out Royals starter Luke Durbin. But the offense finally dented Durbin's armor in the fifth, scoring seven runs to move ahead 9-1 and put the game out of reach.

Einar Diaz began the inning with a single to right and stole second one out later, his first steal since last September. Omar Vizquel followed with a single to center and Roberto Alomar reached on an infield hit.

Bad to worse: Things then went from bad to worse for Kansas City. With two on and one out, Juan Gonzalez hit a hard liner to Joe Randa down the third base line. When Randa realized he couldn't make the forceout at third, he threw wildly to Mike Sweeney and the ball skipped away, allowing Diaz and Vizquel to score. Sweeney then mishandled the ball to give Alomar enough time to score. Gonzalez was credited with his American League-leading 139th RBI. Scott Mullen then relieved Durbin (7-15, 4.75 ERA), who went four innings, giving up six runs (all earned) on seven hits and six walks.

The Tribe then loaded the bases and Fryman deposited reliever Jeff Austin's pitch into the left field bleachers for the fifth grand slam of his career. It was Fryman's third home run of the season and the first since early August.

"I thought it would take a while for Fryman to get his swing back," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "Right now is as good a time as any for Travis to get hot."

Tied season-high: Cleveland's seven-run inning tied a season-high. The Indians had seven runs against New York on June 25.

"It felt good to be out there," Manuel said. "There was a lot of energy in the dugout, a lot of chatter. We stayed focused."

Cleveland got two more runs in the sixth inning when the Tribe loaded the bases with Vizquel, Gonzalez and Thome. Ellis Burks was hit by a pitch and Cordova later walked in a run. Cleveland had nine hits and nine walks for the game.

KC scores: Kansas City scored its only run off Finley in the fourth, when the Royals loaded the bases with nobody out. Finley struck out Mark Quinn and Ken Harvey, but Diaz was fooled o n a curveball that got by the Indians' catcher, allowing Carlos Beltran to score. Finley, the early leader for the Indians' third spot in the playoff rotation, struck out Greg Zaun to end the threat. For the game, Finley (7-6, 5.66 ERA) gave up five hits and had five strikeouts.

"He had better command," Manuel said of Finley. "He worked both sides of the plate and I thought he got more on the ball."

Indians right hander Paul Shuey, working his first game since July 21, gave up one run in the seventh. John Rocker worked a perfect eighth inning and Danys Baez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

scalzo@vindy.com




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