ANDY KING / AP Enlarge
MINNEAPOLIS Grady Sizemore homered and had four RBIs for the Cleveland Indians, who started an important four-game series against the Minnesota Twins with a 5-2 victory last night.
Importance was a relative term, though, two days after the freeway bridge that collapsed a few blocks away and killed at least five people. A crowd announced at 31,664 came to catch a ballgame and forget about the tragedy for a while.
Fans saw ace Johan Santana (11-9) lose his third straight decision, to C.C. Sabathia (14-6). Cleveland moved past Detroit into first place in the AL Central for the first time in nearly a month, and Minnesota fell to 6 games back. Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter had two hits apiece for the Twins.
Sabathia gave up eight hits and two walks while needing 107 pitches to complete six innings, but he struck out three and worked his way out of trouble several times to win for the second time in his last six starts.
Joe Borowski pitched the ninth for his 30th save in 33 attempts.
On the day after he turned 25, Sizemore showed some of the all-around skills that are among the best in baseball by first bashing a 1-0 pitch from Santana into the football seats above right field for a two-run shot in the third inning. Sizemore then singled in the fifth to follow Franklin Gutierrez s leadoff triple and give the Indians the lead again at 3-2.
In the seventh after Santana was removed, Sizemore fought off a pitch from Dennys Reyes near his fists and managed to muscle a broken-bat RBI single that made it 4-2.
Santana s usual after-the-All-Star-break dominance hasn t appeared yet this year. He s had four quality starts of three earned runs or less and six innings or more, with only one clunker, but he s won just once, and Minnesota is a mere 2-3 when he s pitched in the second half.
The minimal offensive support hasn t helped, of course, and Twins players were upset earlier this week when popular second baseman and leadoff hitter Luis Castillo was dealt for two minor-leaguers and the team didn t acquire anyone to help the lineup before Tuesday s trade deadline. Santana criticized the direction and philosophy of the franchise, going so far to say it didn t make any sense for him to be in Minnesota.
The mood in the clubhouse changed from tense to somber the next day when the bridge collapsed, causing the postponement of Thursday s game against Kansas City. The Twins honored the victims and rescuers with a video tribute and Interstate 35W decals on their batting helmets, plus a larger logo that was posted in remembrance behind the plate.
Players from both teams humbly talked before the game about the irrelevance of their sport in light of the collapse, but they hoped to at least help divert attention from the disaster for a few hours.
It was, essentially, back to normal except for the detours many fans had to take to get there. They cheered when Santana took the mound and retired the Indians in order in the first. They booed when Joe Mauer was called out on strikes to end the bottom of the frame. And they roared in the eighth when a handful of people mischievously batted beach balls while ushers tried to confiscate them.
Santana completed six innings and pitched to two batters in the seventh. Kenny Lofton reached when Castillo s replacement, Alexi Casilla, dropped his soft fly for an error, and Gutierrez got on with a single. Casey Blake s grounder allowed the fifth run to score. Two runs were unearned for Santana, who allowed six hits and two walks while striking out eight and throwing 113 pitches.
NOTES: Cleveland s Jhonny Peralta struck out all three times against Santana, making him 3-for-28 with an incredible 22 strikeouts in his career against the left-hander. ... The Indians were planning to call up 22-year-old LHP Aaron Laffey to start today. He ll be making his major-league debut.