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09/03/06 12:25 AM ET
Kouzmanoff's blast propels Tribe
Rookie launches grand slam in first big-league at-bat
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Before the game on Saturday, Kevin Kouzmanoff was a discombobulated mess. His plane to Dallas was delayed, he nearly missed his first pregame stretch with the big-league club and he had to ask a random reporter how to get to the dugout from the visitor's clubhouse at Ameriquest Field. But when Kouzmanoff stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the first inning of the Indians' eventual 6-5 victory over the Rangers, he certainly looked to be in his comfort zone. Kouzmanoff swatted at Edinson Volquez's first-pitch fastball, sent it hurtling 417 feet over the center-field wall and found his place in baseball history. He became the third man to hit a grand slam in his first Major League at-bat, and, it's believed, the first to do so on the first pitch. "It's pretty cool," Kouzmanoff said. "It's pretty hard to top that." Thanks, in part, to the grand slam, the Indians were on top from beginning to end in this, their fifth straight victory. Grady Sizemore led it off with a solo shot to the upper deck in right, Cliff Lee kept the Tribe ahead with seven strong innings of work and closer Tom Mastny avoided his first blown save in the ninth, thanks to right fielder Casey Blake's perfect throw to nail Ian Kinsler at the plate. But the talk of the clubhouse was Kouzmanoff's impressive debut, which earned him some good-natured ribbing from his teammates. "They were saying, 'Oh, it's that easy, huh, Kouzmanoff?'" the rookie said. Apparently, it is. Kouzmanoff was called up earlier in the day from Triple-A Buffalo to make up for the short-term absence of fellow grand slammer Travis Hafner, out with a bruised right hand. He certainly didn't go up to the plate in that first at-bat looking to hit a granny. "There were guys in scoring position," he said. "I was looking for a pitch in the zone to hit, and I got it. I wasn't trying to think too much. I just told myself it's the same game." Considering he's hit .379 between Double-A Akron and Buffalo this season, Kouzmanoff would stand to benefit from it being the same game. Still, to expect him to crank out a grand slam in his first exposure to the bigs would be lunacy. Or would it? "When [Kouzmanoff] came up, I told Cliff Lee, 'I'm going to call it right now,'" catcher Victor Martinez said. "'He's going to hit a grand slam in his first at-bat.'" Said Lee: "I heard five or six guys say he was about to hit a home run." When Kouzmanoff did just that, he joined the Phillies' Bill Duggleby (April 21, 1898) and the Marlins' Jeremy Hermida (Aug. 31, 2005) as the only players in history to hit a grand slam in their first plate appearance. Hermida's came on a 2-2 count. It is not known what Duggleby's count was, though he is not listed among the 23 players to have hit homers on the first pitch they ever faced. Only one other player in history -- the Giants' Bobby Bonds on June 25, 1968 -- hit a grand slam in his first Major League game. Buddy Bell (April 22, 1972) was the last Indians player to hit a grand slam for his first career homer. Kouzmanoff, of course, didn't know any of these little nuggets of information at the time. He just knew he had made a nice first impression on his team, which benefited from the early production. "You never know if it's going to stand the test of time," manager Eric Wedge said of the first-inning homer. "But it ended up being the difference for us in the ballgame." Lee was a difference maker, as well, lasting seven innings for the first time in five starts and giving up four runs, only two of which were earned, on seven hits. Aided further by Martinez's sacrifice fly in the second, he looked stronger as the game progressed. "I was locating my fastball pretty well," Lee said. "It's been a while since I've gone seven full innings, so that was nice." The Indians' bats went quiet after Volquez left in the second, so they needed the arms of Lee and reliever Fernando Cabrera to stay ahead. And in the ninth, they needed another arm -- that of Blake. Mastny put two runners in scoring position with none out, then gave up a line-drive single to right off the bat of Gary Matthews Jr. Blake scooped up the ball and heaved it home, and his throw reached Martinez just as Kinsler was sliding into the plate. Replays made it look as though the play could have been called either way. Home-plate umpire Dale Scott called Kinsler out, and the Rangers lost their best chance of tying the game. "I couldn't tell you where I tagged him," Martinez said of the play, "but I tagged him." So was Kinsler really out? "The ump called him out," said Lee, "so he's out." Fair enough. By avoiding the ninth-inning meltdown, the Indians also avoided the thought of Kouzmanoff's dramatic beginning spoiled by a dramatic ending. After the game, Kouzmanoff was discombobulated again, trying to put the moment into words. "I don't even remember running around the bases," he said. "I couldn't believe I did it. I still can't believe I did it."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.