Indians 4, Athletics 1

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CLEVELAND (AP)—The instant Bob Wickman’s left foot landed awkwardly in a hole on his first warmup pitch, sharp pain coursed up his spine. Before his next windup, Wickman kept telling himself to stop.

Foolishly, he didn’t. Luckily, he seems to be fine.

“Maybe I should have called it quits right there,” the Indians’ closer said. “I don’t know. I knew she was hurting pretty bad, but I wanted to stay in there as long as I could. It was hurting.”

Despite severe back spasms, Wickman stayed in long enough to get two outs in the ninth inning of Cleveland’s 4-1 win over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.

Cliff Lee outpitched Barry Zito, overcame two rain delays and combined with four relievers on a four-hitter as the Indians defeated the A’s in a matchup of the AL’s two lowest-scoring teams.

Lee (6-2) allowed two singles in six shutout innings for his fourth win in five starts. The left-hander overcame a horrible start, when he allowed Oakland to load the bases in the first before wiggling out of the jam.

Ronnie Belliard hit a two-run homer in the eighth and Grady Sizemore went 2-for-4 with two steals and an RBI for Cleveland. Jhonny Peralta had an RBI, triple and scored.

After giving up Nick Swisher’s one-out single in the second, Lee retired 14 in a row while enduring a pair of rain delays totaling 47 minutes.

Rafael Betancourt worked the seventh, Bob Howry the eighth and Wickman came on in the ninth to finish up, but couldn’t. Cleveland pitchers had retired 20 straight before Mark Kotsay doubled to open the inning.

Wickman had jarred his back in a divot on the mound in warmups, and his inability to follow through led to a pair of walks. That’s when he knew he couldn’t go on and gave up the ball to pitching coach Carl Willis.

Although his back was aching, Wickman, who missed all of 2003 following elbow surgery, was glad things weren’t worse.

“It’s not the arm at all,” said Wickman, who contemplated retirement after last season. “I jarred my back when I hit the landing hole. I think you could tell I wasn’t able to finish off my pitches. Obviously I’ll take a day off.”

David Riske was brought in with two outs and a 2-0 count on Swisher and gave up an infield RBI single before getting rookie Dan Johnson, in his first big-league game, to ground to second for his first save since July 17.

The A’s have lost six straight and were nearly shut out for the seventh time. Oakland has lost 15 of 18.

“This is really a test of what is inside our hearts,” Zito said. “We’ll definitely overcome this. Sooner would be better than later.”

Zito (1-6) allowed just one run and two hits in six innings. The lefty walked four, struck out a season-high seven but remained winless in his last five starts.

“Barry has been a tremendous teammate through all of this,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “He’s in the dugout cheering for everybody. He pitched well. We’ve got to let these pitchers know that we can give them some offensive support. Our 3-4-5 guys are not driving in runs.”

Lee was thankful for the 23-minute rain delay in the third. Unable to find his location, he loaded the bases in the first on a single and two walks before striking out Eric Chavez and inducing Keith Ginter to hit into a double play.

“I was actually glad about the first rain delay,” Lee said. “It gave me a chance to regroup.”

Notes

Indians manager Eric Wedge left the team to attend to a “personal family emergency.” Bench coach Buddy Bell ran the club, but general manager Mark Shapiro said Wedge should be back in time for Saturday night’s game. … Rain stopped the game for 23 minutes in the third and 24 in the fifth. … Oakland placed DH Erubiel Durazo on the 15-day disabled list with elbow tendinitis, making him the sixth A’s player on the DL. … 1B Johnson, who was leading the Pacific Coast League with 41 RBIs for Sacramento, was called up by Oakland. He nearly became the 89th player in history to homer in his first major league at-bat when he pulled a ball deep but foul in the second. … Indians OF Juan Gonzalez went 2-for-4 in a rehab assignment at Triple-A Buffalo. The two-time AL MVP, out all season with hamstring injuries, could join Cleveland as soon as Tuesday. … The A’s are 5-18 in May, their most losses in any month since they went 8-19 in July 1997. Oakland’s worst month came in June 1979, when it went 5-24.

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