Sabathia beats Texas, first to 13 wins
Lefty overcomes early struggles, is backed up by Tribe bats
ARLINGTON -- Neither C.C. Sabathia nor Grady Sizemore came into Thursday's opener of a four-game series in Texas feeling completely atop their games. But together, and with the help of some friends, they proved more than the Rangers could handle.Sabathia, coming off the only two-start losing streak of his season, labored again, but still became the first 13-game winner in the Majors after Sizemore's tiebreaking home run in the fifth propelled the Indians to a 7-5 victory before 28,108 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Sizemore entered the game in a 3-for-18 slump but broke out with a run-scoring single that capped the Indians' four-run second against Rangers starter Kameron Loe (5-8). After Sabathia squandered that lead by giving up three runs in the bottom of the second and another in the fourth, Sizemore again victimized Loe, this time for a leadoff homer in the fifth. The center fielder's 16th of the year put Cleveland ahead to stay. "Grady is a special player," said Indians manager Eric Wedge. "He defines 'getting after it,' and if you have to ask what that means, then you wouldn't understand. But that's one of the many reasons he's special." "It felt good," Sizemore said. "I wasn't trying to hit a home run. I had fallen behind in the count, but I got a good pitch to hit." While Sizemore provided the key swing, it was second baseman Josh Barfield who turned in the critical defensive play. With two on and one out in the fourth, Barfield made a spectacular diving stop on a ball lashed up the middle by former Indians star Kenny Lofton. Barfield made a reflexive, backhanded stab and flipped the ball to shortstop Jhonny Peralta to start an inning-ending double play that kept the game tied at 4-4. "Unbelievable," Sabathia said of the play. "And I know Kenny. He hit the ball hard today, and I'm sure he's mad. He probably won't talk to me tomorrow." After Sizemore's homer and a run-scoring grounder by Ryan Garko put Cleveland up 6-4 in the fifth, Sabathia (13-4) worked a perfect sixth before turning things over to the bullpen. Ben Francisco's RBI single in the eighth widened the lead to three runs at 7-4. Closer Joe Borowski made things interesting, giving up a run-scoring single to Mark Teixeira with two out in the bottom of the ninth. That brought 600 home run club member Sammy Sosa to the plate as the potential tying run, but Borowski struck him out to end the game and nail down his 27th save in 30 chances. With that, Sabathia took over the Major League lead in wins, breaking a tie with 12-game winners Josh Beckett (Red Sox), John Lackey (Angels) and Carlos Zambrano (Cubs). Though the big lefty has an unsightly 8.47 ERA over his last three starts, he remains on track for the first 20-win season of his career. "It's numbers," Wedge said dismissively. "The only number I'm concerned with is the number of wins we have and whether that takes us to the playoffs. Any other numbers will follow from that." The victory kept the Indians (56-39) two games behind the first-place Tigers in the AL Central, and 1 1/2 games ahead of Seattle atop the league's Wild Card race. Sabathia looked to be in great shape after his teammates staked him to a 4-0 lead in the second. Trot Nixon drilled a two-run double, Francisco had a sacrifice fly and Sizemore chipped in with his run-scoring single. But the Indians' ace faltered after retiring the first two hitters in the bottom of the inning. One strike from ending the inning, Sabathia instead gave up a double to Brad Wilkerson and a two-run homer to Gerald Laird. It was only the second home run Sabathia had surrendered in his first 26 career innings in Arlington. "He's so tough, especially how he's been pitching this year," Laird said. "To go out there and grind some at-bats and score some runs and get back in the game shows a lot about our offense right now." Sabathia kept the Rangers' rally alive with a run-scoring throwing error on a ball he fielded off the bat of Travis Metcalf. Texas is second in the Majors in bunt hits, and managed three infield hits and the error by forcing Sabathia to field the ball. "That's part of my game I need to improve on, and they exposed me today," Sabathia admitted. "I'll be ready for that next time." Texas loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth on a walk by Wilkerson and consecutive bunt singles by Laird and Ramon Vazquez. Metcalf tied the game with a sacrifice fly, but Barfield's defensive gem against Lofton prevented the Rangers from seizing the lead. "The ground is hard here," Barfield said. "I knew I had a chance to dive and get there. It was just a matter of whether it would take a hop over my glove or not." "Josh Barfield making that play up the middle, that was some kind of athleticism," Wedge said. Garko doubled and scored the Indians' final run in the eighth, extending his career-best hitting streak to 13 consecutive games.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.