First place in reach as Indians topple Twins
CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Cleveland Indians pulled within one game of the AL Central lead, scoring four runs in the first inning and beating the Minnesota Twins 7-1 Saturday night behind home runs by Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez.
Cleveland, which has not shared the division lead this late in the season since 2001, can tie the first-place Twins with a victory Sunday, which would complete a three-game sweep.
The Indians have won six straight and 10 of 11, gaining seven games on the Twins in 10 days. Minnesota, which has lost eight of 10, had a season-high six-game lead over the Indians and Chicago White Sox after last Sunday's games.
Jake Westbrook (11-5) won for the fifth time in six starts, giving up one run and five hits in seven innings. He was helped by inning-ending double plays in the fourth and fifth innings.
Hafner hit a two-run homer in the first inning, Casey Blake hit a solo shot and Ronnie Belliard's major league-leading 41st double off the wall in left scored Ben Broussard from first for a 4-0 lead. Martinez added a three-run homer in the fifth.
Indians fans have finally taken notice of the team's surge in recent weeks, with the first sellout crowd since opening day attending the game, 40,942. One fan's sign read: "PLAYOFF BOUND."
Fans rose to their feet in the seventh as Westbrook faced Michael Cuddyer with two runners in scoring position. Cuddyer grounded out to shortstop Omar Vizquel, ending the Twins lone threat.
Jody Gerut made a diving catch in right field on Cuddyer's drive with a runner on second to end the game.
Kyle Lohse (5-10) allowed seven runs and seven hits in five innings, losing his second straight start. Shannon Stewart homered in the sixth for the Twins.
Manager of year?
Indians manager Eric Wedge doesn't want to hear his name mentioned as a manager of the year candidate.
"I really don't care about that," Wedge said. "I haven't played one inning."
But if the Indians continue their winning ways, Wedge will be hearing it more and more.
The second-year manager kept his players motivated early in the season as the bullpen blew game after game.
Now that the Indians are in contention -- two games behind first-place Minnesota entering Saturday night -- Wedge has his young players focused, but loose.
"These guys are the ones that are out there doing it," Wedge said. "They're the ones that are being good teammates to each other."
Wedge's players are quick to support him as a candidate, though.
"He should be manager of the year," shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "He deserves a lot of credit for where we are."
Vizquel said Wedge's best attribute is his consistency.
"You know where you stand. You know what to expect," he said.
The award typically goes to the manager whose team has the biggest turnaround. Last year, Kansas City manager Tony Pena won it as the Royals came out of nowhere to finish third at 83-79 in the AL Central Division.
The Indians are on pace to accomplish at least that.
Wedge will face competition from Texas manager Buck Showalter, whose Rangers, without Alex Rodriguez, are having just as surprising a season as the Indians.
ShStwrt lf4131Lawton lf4000
CGzmn ss4000Vizquel ss4220
LFord dh3010Hafner dh3212
Mrneau 1b4000VMrtnz c4113
THnter cf4010Blake 3b4121
JJones rf4020Brssrd 1b3100
Koskie 3b3010Blliard 2b4021
Cddyer 2b4000Gerut rf3000
HBlnco c2000Crisp cf3000
DP--Cleveland 2. LOB--Minnesota 7, Cleveland 3. 2B--JJones (18), Belliard (41). 3B--Blake (3). HR--ShStewart (6), THafner (23), VMartinez (19), Blake (20). SB--Vizquel (15).
Umpires--Home, Mike Everitt; First, Larry Young; Second, Angel Hernandez; Third, Mark Wegner. T--2:31. A--40,942.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.