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Published: Tuesday, 4/3/2001

Wells gets big victory

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - It was hard to tell which starter was larger yesterday - Chicago's David Wells or Cleveland's Bartolo Colon. But it wasn't hard to tell which one came up bigger on Opening Day.

Wells, a burly 6-4, 250-pound left-hander, scattered four hits and two runs in six innings - both solo home runs - as the White Sox whipped the Indians 7-4 before a sellout crowd of 42,606 fans at Jacobs Field.

The 6-0, 235-pound Colon, meanwhile, was pounded for eight hits and seven runs in seven innings. He also had his six-game winning streak snapped after losing for the first time since July 26, 2000.

“I didn't feel too well, for the most part,” Wells said. “I had some kind of stomach virus during the night and this morning. I didn't feel like I had my strength out there.”

Wells, who improved to 18-4 lifetime against the Indians, would have a hard time convincing the Tribe batters that he wasn't on top of his game.

Wells threw 52 strikes among his 81 pitches.

The only two bad pitches he made were to Russell Branyan and Juan Gonzalez, who hit solo home runs in the fifth and six innings, respectively. Gonzalez touched Chicago reliever Antonio Osuna for another solo homer in the eighth, but on this day, Wells was the story. At 37, he is the new ace of the White Sox's staff.

“Wells is a guy who has been around,” Colon said through his interpreter, bullpen coach Luis Isaac. “He knows how to pitch. I like to watch him pitch. Some day, I hope to be that type of pitcher.”

Wells earned the first Opening Day victory of his 15-year career. He is coming off a 20-8 season with the Toronto Blue Jays last year.

“He moved the ball around very well,” Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar said. “He was hitting all of the corners. His breaking ball really was sharp. He threw a great game today.”

Wells has little love for Tribe fans, who heckled him about his recently deceased mother as he warmed up in the bullpen before Game 5 of the American League Championship Series in 1998. He was taunted once again yesterday.

“It's great to come here and win,” Wells said, grinning. “The last time I was here they kind of walloped me. I had a pretty good outing today, all things considered. Everything was working. I just didn't feel right.”

Colon, being counted on to be the ace of the Cleveland staff, didn't have much working yesterday, even though he finished with six strikeouts. He threw 60 strikes in 92 pitches.

“Wells didn't have his good fastball today, but his experience and his knowledge of how to pitch really showed through,” Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. “Bartolo is still in the learning stage as far as pitching goes. He started to fall behind batters and he threw some bad pitches, but he'll be OK.”

Colon walked three batters and allowed a three-run homer to Magglio Ordonez in the sixth inning. It staked the White Sox to a 6-1 lead.

“I left too many pitches up in the strike zone,” Colon said.

Chicago, which ended Cleveland's five-year run as AL Central champions last year, is expected to fight the Tribe for the title again this year.

The two teams will meet 18 more times this season, including tomorrow night. The Tribe was 21-30 against AL Central teams last year, including 5-8 against the White Sox.

“Our fans are accustomed to the rivalries with Boston and the New York Yankees,” Indians owner Larry Dolan said. “But the Central Division championship is our ticket to the playoffs. Those people stand in our way. We have to beat those guys. I hope our fans will embrace that. We'll take care of Boston and New York in October.

“We've got to beat Chicago this year, and beat them often.”

Chicago, which led the majors in runs scored last year with a franchise-record 978, grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning when first baseman Paul Konerko doubled off the left field wall and scored on Carlos Lee's single to right.

Konerko drove in two runs in the fourth, lining a 1-2 pitch from Colon to right field that scored Jose Valentin and Frank Thomas.

The Indians finally got on the board in the fifth when Branyan socked an 0-1 pitch from Wells into the seats in right.

Branyan, making his first Opening Day start in the majors, continued his hot hitting. His eight home runs this spring tied for the American League lead and his 20 RBIs ranked third.

“Wells hung a breaking ball and I jumped all over it,” Branyan said.

Chicago, which had three guys thrown out after driving in runs, stretched its lead to 6-1 in the sixth on Ordonez's three-run homer.

Gonzalez, who struck out swinging his first two at-bats, drilled a 1-0 pitch from Wells into the left-field seats in the sixth, cutting the White Sox's lead to 6-2.

After Chicago added a run in the seventh on Valentin's RBI double, Gonzalez homered again - this time to left field on 1-2 pitch from Osuna - in the eighth. The Indians added a final run on Alomar's sacrifice fly.

“I'm not worried,” Manuel said. “This was just one game. We'll bounce back.”



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