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Published: Saturday, 4/8/2006

Blake delivers slam, Hafner crushes pair of homers for Tribe

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Travis Hafner hit two home runs as part of a 4-for-4 opening day at Jacobs Field. Travis Hafner hit two home runs as part of a 4-for-4 opening day at Jacobs Field.
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CLEVELAND - Minnesota had to like its odds. In the fifth inning of a one-run game, Cleveland's Casey Blake came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.

The Twins had to feel pretty confident about getting out of the situation with no damage on a foggy, drizzly opening day at Jacobs Field. Blake, the No. 9 hitter for the Indians, barely hit the speed limit in similar situations last season.

But the Cleveland right-fielder jumped on the first pitch he saw from Minnesota starter Kyle Lohse and sent it screaming onto the Home Run Porch above left field.

The grand slam pushed the Tribe to a five-run advantage, and they went on to an 11-6 win.

In 2005, Blake was just 2-of-14 with the bases loaded, and went 0-for-7 when he stepped in the batter's box with two outs and three men on base.

"I could sit here and come up with a hundred excuses why I didn't play well last year," Blake said, "but I just wasn't very successful with runners in scoring position. When I look back, I wish I had been more aggressive. I'm happy now to be able to concentrate and come up big out of the nine-hole."

Blake's shot scored Travis Hafner, who homered twice in the game and went 4-for-4, along with Ben Broussard and Aaron Boone.

Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore robs Minnesota's Justin Morneau in the second inning. Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore robs Minnesota's Justin Morneau in the second inning.
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"Casey's hit came at a big spot in the game," Hafner said. "You don't always expect that from a number nine hitter, but there's a lot of talent in this clubhouse, and when everybody's contributing like this, it makes our ball club so much tougher."

The fifth inning didn't end following Blake's bases-clearing shot, as Grady Sizemore singled to center and Jason Michaels slapped a base hit through the right side, sending Sizemore to third.

Minnesota reliever Matt Guerrier threw a wild pitch to Ronnie Belliard, and Sizemore scored to make it 9-3.

Hafner added a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth, which followed a two-run shot from the Twins' Justin Morneau that momentarily got Minnesota within four. Morneau homered again in the eighth, and Hafner answered in the bottom of the inning with another blast into the seats in right.

"Travis is a great hitter, not just a guy who hits for power," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "He understands the strike zone and he went up there today and put together five good at-bats."

The Indians, who had 17 hits, had taken a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a run-scoring single by Jhonny Peralta that brought home Sizemore, and then an opposite field base hit by Broussard that scored Peralta.

The Twins got a run in the third, but Cleveland answered with two more in the bottom half of the inning on a double by Victor Martinez that scored Peralta and Hafner.

"This is how we expect to play," Blake said. "We expect to win every night."

After Minnesota cut the lead to 4-3 in the fifth, the Tribe got Blake's surprising poke - and a lot of breathing room for starter Paul Byrd. A free agent who was signed by the Indians last December, Byrd went six innings and allowed five runs.

"It's tough when your team comes out and scores like that for you, and then you give up a walk and a home run. It's frustrating," Byrd said. "But I can't say enough about how we played. That kind of run support is just phenomenal."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@thebslade.com

or 419-724-6510.


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