CLEVELAND — Even with a new center fielder and leadoff hitter in the lineup, the red-hot Indians didn’t miss a beat Sunday at Progressive Field.
Of course, the player filling both roles for the first time this season was none other than Grady Sizemore.
That always helps.
With Sizemore making his debut, Cleveland stayed hot and beat Baltimore 4-2 to clinch a three-game sweep. The Indians (11-4) won their seventh straight at home, while collecting their 11th victory in 13 games to move into sole possession of first place in the Central Division.
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“I was definitely hoping for a win today,” said Sizemore, who made his long-awaited return, playing in his first game since May 16 of last year. “I didn’t want to come in and ruin the streak.
“It was definitely exciting. It was one of those things where I definitely had some jitters, especially during that first at-bat.”
Sizemore, who is coming back from microfracture surgery on his left knee, received a warm greeting from the hometown fans. The standing ovation came before he grounded out to second base to start the bottom of the first inning.
In his second trip to the plate, Sizemore paid back the fans, belting a 2-0 fastball from Orioles starter Brad Bergesen over the right-field wall for a solo home run that put the Indians in front 2-0.
“It was very nice to see Grady come back today and make a very nice contribution right off the bat,” manager Manny Acta said. “He looked good. He was on time at the plate. I think this was huge, because of where he’s coming from.”
“I was just trying to put some good swings together,” said Sizemore, who went 2-for-4, adding a double in the fifth inning. “I definitely wasn’t trying to hit a home run, but it was nice to have some good at-bats today.
“The team’s been playing great. I can’t help but get excited about how the guys are playing. I just want to come in here and fit in and not change any of that.”
Though they have played well in his absence, the Indians are happy to have the three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove award winner back in the fold.
“I think today is the first day I’ve ever seen him healthy,” closer Chris Perez said. “He put on a show. It’s just going to help us out. It’s a tremendous uplift.”
“He’s one of the best players in the game when he’s healthy,” Acta said.
Sizemore’s homer, his first since Aug. 27, 2009, at Baltimore, was one of three for the Indians, who are in the midst of their longest home winning streak since 2007.
Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner also went deep, as Santana snapped an 0-for-23 skid by leading off the second inning with his second homer for a 1-0 lead.
Hafner hit his fourth homer — a solo shot — with one out in the sixth to put Cleveland in front 4-1. Hafner, who is displaying his power of old, didn’t hit his fourth homer last year until May 22 in his 36th game.
Travis Buck drove in the Indians’ other run with a single in the fourth.
The offensive support was enough for Fausto Carmona, who got his first win after allowing just two runs (one earned) on five hits over seven innings.
Cleveland’s ace, who has pitched well since a disastrous outing on Opening Day, struck out five and walked one.
“He doesn’t have three wins, but he’s got three quality starts since Opening Day,” Acta said.
Carmona (1-2, 4.74 ERA) was perfect through three innings, then allowed his first hit to Brian Roberts and his only earned run in the fourth.
Perez pitched the ninth, retiring the side in order and striking out Luke Scott to end the game and earn his fifth save in as many opportunities.
It put the cap on another momentous day at the park for the Indians, who begin a four-game series against another surprising team, the Royals, at Kansas City tonight.
“It was a very good day, a very good homestand,” Acta said of the three-game stop. “Now we’re ready to go on the road and battle.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com.