CLEVELAND (AP)—As the cheers grew louder and wrapped around Bob Wickman, he fought back tears.
Finally back on the mound, Wickman soaked in a moment he sometimes wondered would ever arrive.
“I waited for that for a long time,” Wickman said, his bloodshot eyes conveying his emotions. “That was a huge moment out there. It really meant a lot to me.”
Wickman hadn’t pitched in the majors since Aug. 10, 2002—also against Texas. He had undergone “Tommy John” elbow surgery and overcome a lengthy setback this season.
Activated before the game, the 35-year-old began warming up in the seventh and came in for the eighth inning to protect Cleveland’s three-run lead.
Almost from the moment he came through the bullpen door in Jacobs Field, Indians fans rose to welcome Wickman back.
The reception caught him off guard.
“I was away for two years,” he said. “That says a lot about the fans here that they would cheer for me like that.”
He got an even louder ovation as he left following his scoreless inning. Wickman was then greeted in the dugout by high-fives, handshakes and hugs from his teammates.
“It was a great moment for him and us, too,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “He has gone through so much in the last couple years. It was a feel-good moment.”
Texas manager Buck Showalter, Wickman’s first major league manager with the New York Yankees, was equally moved by seeing the reliever complete his comeback.
“He is a special man,” said Showalter. “We grew up in the big leagues together. It shows he has a lot of respect in Cleveland and for what he has done in major league baseball. I hope it continues for him for a while, too.”
Wickman plans to stick around as long as his elbow will allow.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to wake up and feel my arm tomorrow,” he said.
Lee (8-1) had few problems handling one of the AL’s best hitting teams and baseball’s highest-scoring squad. The Rangers, who have scored 456 runs, didn’t get a runner past second until the seventh when Mark Teixeira homered.
Lee allowed four hits, struck out five and improved to 7-1 in starts following an Indians’ loss.
Lee was unaware of his success in getting Cleveland righted after a setback.
“I just try to do the same thing every time, whether we’ve lost five in a row or won five in a row,” Lee said. “I don’t do things any differently.”
Lee ran to the dugout after being replaced, but stuck around to watch Miller get out of the seventh, Wickman allow one hit in the eighth and David Riske pitch a scoreless ninth for his third save—and first since April 22—in nine tries.
Despite walking five through three innings and Casey Blake to open the fourth, Texas starter Nick Bierbrodt (1-1) didn’t give up a hit until Hafner bounced a single to right with one out in the fourth.
Bierbrodt allowed three runs and just one hit, but walked seven.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” he said. “I’m frustrated with myself. I was searching every batter and thinking a lot. That doesn’t help either.”
Teixeira, the reigning AL player of the week, led off the seventh with his 16th homer to make it 3-1.
However, the Indians got the run back in the bottom of the inning when LouMerloni singled with two outs and Hafner doubled down the left-field line.
Rangers DH Michael Young didn’t start at shortstop for the first time this season, and had two hits. He has 121 before the All-Star break, eclipsing Ivan Rodriguez’s club record (119) set in 2000. … Unless they get a few more wins, the Indians will be the first sub .500 team to have four All-Stars since Baltimore in 1999. … Rangers C Rod Barajas left the game after he got hit on the right hand by Lee in the fifth inning. X-rays were negative. Danny Ardoin caught the final four innings. … At 46-35, the Rangers have matched their second-best start in club history at the official halfway point. Texas was49-32 in 1996.