Sizemore, Nixon help C.C. stay perfect
Indians now 7-0 in games ace Sabathia has started
BALTIMORE -- The official save in the Indians' 9-6 victory at Baltimore on Sunday went to closer Joe Borowski, who induced Melvin Mora to fly out to the warning track with two runners on after the Orioles had knicked the Cleveland bullpen for three runs to turn a blowout into a nail-biter.
The unofficial savior was center fielder Grady Sizemore, who twice robbed Corey Patterson with catches in right-center, saving four runs that could have extended the Indians' losing streak to three games.
Cleveland escaped with a win behind a workmanlike start from C.C. Sabathia and a career-high five hits from Trot Nixon. Sabathia went seven innings and remained unbeaten, while Nixon drove in four runs, with four of his hits and three of his RBIs coming against left-handers, against whom he had been 1-for-15 (.071) with one RBI.
"Most of the time I face lefties that come out of the bullpen, and those guys aren't fun," Nixon said. "You get an opportunity to face some starters ... and it seems like it's a little bit different up there. I have complete confidence that I can go up there and have productive at-bats against left-handers."
Sabathia (5-0) allowed three runs on nine hits, walked one and struck out nine, while the Indians improved to 7-0 in his starts. He improved to 5-0 in nine career starts against the Orioles. A wind-blown three-run double by Ramon Hernandez in the third inning, on a ball misjudged by Nixon in the right-field corner, accounted for the damage against the left-hander.
But it was Sizemore's heroics that kept the game from getting out of hand long before the Indians bullpen almost let it. Patterson twice had opportunities to drive in runs, twice drove hard-hit balls to right-center and twice went back to the dugout empty-handed as Sizemore gloved the final out of an inning.
"The first one was -- not to be too dramatic -- one of the best catches I've seen," manager Eric Wedge said. "Talk about what kind of difference that would have made in the game. When the ball gets that close to the outfielder and you still feel like he's just not going to get there, then somehow, someway, he puts his body in a position to one, get there, and two, to be able to catch it and hang on to it? I mean, it's a ridiculous catch."
Sizemore's first gem came in the Orioles' sixth, with the Indians ahead, 8-3, and Sabathia wearing down. With one out, Baltimore loaded the bases. Sabathia pulled the string on a change to strike out Kevin Millar for the second out, but Patterson slammed a ball to right-center that seemed destined to clear the bases and chase Sabathia.
Shaded to the left-field side of center, Sizemore sprinted, then made a fully-extended stab, grabbing the ball and tumbling to the ground. He didn't even have to check the webbing to make sure.
"Most balls in the gap, I have a good chance to get to," Sizemore said. "It's just a matter of whether I cut it off or try to go for it. If you think you have a chance and it might end the inning, you might as well go for it. If it's early in the game or early in the inning, you try to cut it off and save a run from scoring. But if you can get it, I think you've got to go for it."
Sabathia had already given up on the ball; he was trotting to back up third base. But when Sizemore came up with it, the 290-pounder pirouetted with an exclamatory double fist-pump.
"[Patterson] hit that ball, and Grady was nowhere in sight. To have him end up catching that ball was a huge deal," Sabathia said. "That knocks me out of the game if that ball lands right there. It's 8-6 in the sixth inning, but that changes the game."
In the eighth, after the Orioles had scored twice on Francisco Cabrera to make it 9-5, Patterson came up with two outs and Millar on first after an RBI single. Again, he sliced the ball into right-center. Nixon lost it in the sun, but Sizemore, backing up, grabbed the final out while sliding on his backside.
"Grady reminds me a lot of Johnny Damon. .... He can go from gap to gap with the best of them," Nixon said. "Does it surprise me that he got there and made that catch? No. That's Gold Glove Grady."
While Sizemore throttled Baltimore in the field, Nixon took advantage of a rare start against a left-hander, Brian Burres, in his first Major League start, to torment the Orioles at the plate.
Nixon put the Tribe ahead, 1-0, with an RBI single in the second inning, started a four-run rally in the fourth with a run-scoring single to center, ignited a three-run outburst in the fifth with an RBI double and drove in a run with an eighth-inning single. He added 49 points to his batting average, lifting it to .320.
"The way Trot's been swinging, you just kind of match [Burres'] arm action and delivery with Trot's [swing]. He puts up pro at-bats. He doesn't give up any ground out there," Wedge said.
Jason Michaels and Casey Blake each had two RBIs for the Indians, who chased Burres after 3 2/3 innings and wound up with 16 hits. Burres (0-1) gave up five runs on seven hits and two walks after striking out the side in the first inning.
Cleveland's bullpen, which let the Orioles back in a lopsided game, drew criticism from Wedge. After Sizemore's second catch bailed out Cabrera, Rafael Betancourt started the ninth by allowing Brian Roberts to double to left-center on the 15th pitch he saw.
"We've got a 9-3 lead going into the eighth inning and we got to go to our closer -- that's [surely not] what we're looking for," Wedge said. "Cabrera wasn't the guy we needed him to be and Raffy was throwing the ball instead of pitching. ... Anytime you have to throw 15, 16 pitches to one hitter and end up on the south side of it, that's no good starting off an inning."
Indians catcher Victor Martinez was removed from the game for a pinch-hitter in the eighth after Miguel Tejada fouled a ball off Martinez's right wrist in the bottom of the seventh. X-rays taken at the stadium were negative .
"I feel pretty good right now," Martinez said. "It was painful when it hit."
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.