Sabathia won his career-high sixth straight start by scattering three hits over 7 1-3 innings, spurring the Indians to a 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Friday night.
“I just tried to keep my team in the game,” he said, “because we’re playing good.”
Ronnie Belliard had three hits, Grady Sizemore homered and drove in two runs and Ben Broussard homered and drove in three runs for Cleveland, which won for the 11th time in 14 games and stayed 7 1/2 games behind first-place Chicago in the AL Central.
Brad Radke (8-11) was stung again by a lack of support, though he gave up nine hits and four runs—three earned—in seven innings. The Twins have scored only 12 runs during the 73 innings Radke has pitched over his 11 losses.
Sabathia was at his best against his biggest rival, which hit only one ball past the infield in the first five innings. His penchant for throwing inside has rankled Minnesota in the past, and this spring Sabathia said he “hated” the Twins.
The burly left-hander later characterized his comment as simple envy of Minnesota’s three straight AL Central titles. He ticked off the Twins again in June, though, by staring into their dugout while leaving the mound in a 9-0 loss at the Metrodome. Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire deemed that “not very classy.”
But the Twins, who ended a 20-inning scoreless streak with an RBI single by Jacque Jones in the ninth, humbly sent praise Sabathia’s way.
“He pitched a great ballgame and shut us down, and all that other stuff’s in the past,” said Gardenhire, who called Sabathia by name for the first time this season. “He can hate us all he wants to, but you pitch like that—I guess you can say whatever you want.”
Sabathia gave up a single to Michael Cuddyer and a walk to Justin Morneau with one out in the eighth, yielding to Bob Howry—who retired the next two hitters. Effectively mixing changeups and sliders with a fastball that reached 98 mph, Sabathia lowered his ERA to 4.54.
“He pitched,” Cuddyer said. “He didn’t just go out there and throw the ball.”
That’s exactly what the Indians have been trying to get him to do consistently ever since he won 17 games as a rookie in 2001. He’s made at least 30 starts each season, but he was having a rough time this summer until the Indians recently figured out he was tipping off batters to his pitches.
Now doing a better job of disguising them, and mixing them up, Sabathia went 5-0 with a 3.27 ERA in August. He sustained that success with this stellar start.
“He’s pitching as well as he ever has,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s staying in his delivery, doing a much better job of commanding his fastball.”
The Indians, who are 42-27 on the road, began the day one game behind a two-way tie for first place in the wild-card race. The Twins were fourth, another four games back.
“Really nothing you can do about that,” Sabathia said. “Try to win our game and let the rest take care of itself. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
And as for beating Minnesota?
“I’ve been trying to pitch the same way all year,” he said. “I made the comment. I’m not backing off the comment, but like I said a long time ago—I have a lot of friends over there in that clubhouse. Guys I hang out with in the offseason. So it’s just one of those things. If it was the White Sox who had won the division three years in a row, I would’ve said I hate the White Sox.”
The Twins, who avoided consecutive shutouts for the first time since Sept. 7-8, 2002, against Oakland, don’t have much hope left to make the playoffs for a fourth straight time.
“It’s a tough loss,” Cuddyer said. “The only thing we can do is battle and try to win the series.”
Radke lost to Cleveland for the first time in nine starts, dating to Aug. 14, 2003. It was his first defeat this season in eight starts since July 26. … Sabathia does not have a complete game this year. … Matthew LeCroy, who struck out three times, has one hit in his last 20 at-bats for the Twins. … Cleveland reliever David Riske started a three-game suspension for hitting Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki with a pitch.