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Published: Wednesday, 5/14/2008

Pitching, defense carry Indians to another win

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - Think about this.

The Indians' highest-paid hitter, Travis Hafner, is batting .223. Their clean-up hitter, Victor Martinez, has exactly zero home runs this year, and collectively the team is batting .202 this month.

Sound the alarm? Throw 'em a rope? Is this team circling the drain?

Just the opposite. Because the Indians pitch and play defense better than just about everyone else, they're winners of six of their last eight.

Cleveland's two strong suits certainly sparked its latest triumph, a 4-0 decision over the Oakland Athletics last night.

Paul Byrd turned in 71/3 shutout innings, extending the scoreless streak for Indians starting pitchers to 34 innings.

Any rally mounted against Byrd last night was quickly squashed by a did-you-just-see-that play behind him.

"Unbelievable," Byrd said of the Tribe's defense. "I just kept fist-pumping and making sure the guys wink back at me when they got back to their position. They deserve a lot of credit."

The highlights began in the second inning, when center fielder Grady Sizemore fielded a base hit and threw out Frank Thomas at home plate with two outs. The next inning left fielder David Dellucci leaped up against the outfield wall to take extra bases away from Donnie Murphy.

Not to be outdone, Sizemore came racing in on Kurt Suzuki's sinking liner in the sixth, dove forward and caught it. Second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera made a falling, over-the-shoulder catch on Bobby Crosby's blooper in the eighth.

"My box score is going to look good in the paper tomorrow" Byrd siad, "but if you didn't see the game, you'd think I just threw great. The reality is they made a lot of really tough plays. I could've easily lost this game."

Byrd (2-3) set a personal season high with seven strikeouts, and he had some tough acts to follow. Cleveland starters C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Cliff Lee all pitched scoreless games prior to Byrd's start.

Indians starters have allowed just one run in the last 39 innings, and own the AL's lowest ERA for starting pitchers at 3.06.

Masa Kobayashi recorded the final four outs for his first major league save.

Hafner, struggling all season, came up with two hits, including an RBI single off Oakland starter Justin Duchscherer (3-2) in the first.

He's now the club's all-time leader for RBI's by a DH with 460, surpassing Andre Thorton.

Hafner kept the Indians (20-19) alive with a two-out single in the eighth, setting the stage for Ryan Garko's three-run homer.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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