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Archive for Sunday, September 18, 2005

Cleveland closing in on first

September 18, 2005

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— For more than five months, the AL Central belonged to one team: the Chicago White Sox.

They've got company. The Cleveland Indians have turned a runaway into a race.

Cliff Lee won his eighth straight decision, and Coco Crisp hit a two-run homer as baseball's hottest team beat the Kansas City Royals, 5-4, Saturday night, pulling the Indians within 31â2 games of Chicago in the AL Central.

That's as close as Cleveland has been to the first-place White Sox since April 18.

The Indians have won 11 of 12, and in going 22-6 since Aug. 18, they've trimmed 111â2 games off a Chicago lead that reached 15 on Aug. 1.

Back then, it seemed insurmountable.

Not anymore. Not with six games remaining against the reeling White Sox, who have dropped seven of nine and will play host to a three-game series against Cleveland starting Monday.

"It's up to us," Lee said. "For a while, I thought it was out of reach and I was just thinking about the wild card, but the White Sox have fallen apart lately. We've got to play them six times. It's possible."

The Indians also improved to 12-3 in September and stayed a half-game up on the New York Yankees for the wild card.

Lee (17-4) remained unbeaten since July 8, allowing four runs and five hits in seven innings. The left-hander, who has just one loss since June 1 - a span of 19 starts - was staked to a 5-0 lead in the first inning.

Lee gave up John Buck's homer in the third and Emil Brown's three-run shot in the sixth that brought the Royals within 5-4. But, as it has done all season, Cleveland's steady bullpen came through.

Bob Howry worked a perfect eighth, and Bob Wickman finished for his league-leading 43rd save.

It's rarely easy for Wickman, who walked Mike Sweeney to open the ninth before striking out Brown. Angel Berroa singled, but Wickman retired Mark Teahen on a slow roller to first and struck out Justin Huber for the final out.

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