CLEVELAND - Just the thought of Juan Gonzalez and Jim Thome coming up back-to-back in the Cleveland lineup was supposed to send the opposition racing for the fox holes. All of that power, all of that potential energy.
The Tribe's big sticks smacked the ball around a little against Baltimore last night, but it was the Indians' discipline at the plate that ultimately made the difference in a 4-3 win over the Orioles.
After Gonzalez and Thome homered back-to-back in the sixth to tie the game, four walks in the seventh inning produced the winning run.
Gonzalez, the $10 million-a-year free agent who has three homers in three games at Jacobs Field this season, walked on four pitches to push in Jolbert Cabrera with the decisive run.
“If I see a pitch I can hit, I swing, but if not, then I walk,” Gonzalez said.
Baltimore starter Jose Mercedes had kept the Tribe hitters off-balance through the first four innings as his team staked him to a 3-0 lead. But Ellis Burks led off the fifth by lining a shot off the mound that forced Mercedes to jump for cover. After Russell Branyan struck out, Wil Cordero ripped a ball into the left-field corner for a double, scoring Burks to make it 3-1.
After an eight-minute fog delay in the middle of the sixth, the Tribe evened the game 3-3 with the back-to-back homers from Gonzalez and Thome. Gonzalez hit a bullet that took a straight route into the seats next to the Indians' bullpen in center field 397 feet from the plate. Thome hit the next pitch from Mercedes 428 feet into the picnic area in dead center.
“When Juan and Jimmy hit those back-to-back, that was important because that got us tied,” Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel said. “We were hitting, and we were aggressive up there at the plate, especially the big guys. But when we weren't seeing strikes, the guys backed off a little and took the walks. That's just good baseball.”
Cordero led off the seventh with a walk, and Cabrera came in to pinch-run for him. Einar Diaz sacrificed Cabrera to second, then B.J. Ryan came on to relieve Mercedes. Ryan walked pinch-hitter Marty Cordova, got Omar Vizquel to pop out, then walked Roberto Alomar to load the bases.
Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove brought Calvin Maduro in to face Gonzalez, and Gonzalez walked on four pitches, sending Cabrera across the plate for a 4-3 Tribe lead. Thome popped out to end the inning.
“We just didn't throw strikes when we had to,” Hargrove said. “It just didn't work out. We just made a couple of bad pitches.”
Paul Shuey put the Orioles down in the eighth, and Bob Wickman pitched a perfect ninth for his first save.
“It's only the third game, but this is a pretty big win for us,” Thome said. “Mercedes really pitched the ball well. He's got a good changeup and he's really sneaky out there. That ball I hit out was a changeup, but he just left it up in the middle of the plate. We were fortunate to get some big runs off of him.”
The Orioles put together four straight hits in the third inning and scored three times off Tribe starter Dave Burba. Jerry Hairston singled to right-center, then Brady Anderson worked the count full before lashing a shot through the middle past a diving Alomar. Mike Bordick's base hit to right scored Hairston with the game's first run.
Delino DeShields followed and slapped a 2-2 pitch down the line past Branyan at third, sending Anderson home for a 2-0 Baltimore lead.
David Segui's sacrifice fly to center scored Bordick for a 3-0 lead.