Cleveland — Jim Thome went hitless but was warmly welcomed in his Cleveland homecoming after nearly a decade away and the Indians stopped their slide in the AL Central with a 2-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
Thome went 0 for 4 and struck out twice in his first game back with Cleveland since 2002, when he disappointed Cleveland fans by leaving as a free agent. The slugger waived a no-trade clause to return to Cleveland and a chance to help the Indians get back to the postseason. A sellout crowd cheered his every move.
Ubaldo Jimenez (2-1) struck out 10 and allowed one run in seven innings, the kind of performance Cleveland had been needing from him since he came in a trade from Colorado.
The Indians, who all wore their socks high in tribute to Thome, scored the go-ahead run on a bases-loaded walk in the seventh and beat Felipe Paulino (2-6) for just their second win in eight games.
Chris Perez stranded the tying run at third in the ninth for his 28th save.
After the final out, Thome bounced out of the dugout to congratulate his new teammates. This is why he came back, to help them catch the first-place Tigers, and he celebrated with high-fives and a hug for former roommate Sandy Alomar Jr., now his first-base coach, before he was collared by Slider, the Indians’ fuzzy mascot.
Thome’s return sparked a booming business at the Indians’ box office on Friday. The club was expecting a crowd of around 30,000, and drew 41,337 — the fourth sellout of 2011. Nearly 9,000 tickets were sold after the Indians announced their career home run leader was coming back.
Thome received a thunderous standing ovation when he came up for the first time in the second inning. Holding “Welcome Thome” signs, fans clapped and yelled and he returned the love before his first at-bat with the Indians in nine years by taking off his batting helmet and bowing slightly.
Perhaps overanxious, he topped Paulino’s first pitch, hitting a weak comebacker.
Thome struck out looking his second time up in the fifth, fooled by a chest-high fastball for strike three that he thought was out of the strike zone. He struck out again in the seventh, this time on a vicious cut, and grounded to second in the eighth. He didn’t have the impact he wanted, but the Indians won, and for Thome that’s all that will matter.
Jimenez was nasty. He blew fastball past the Royals and was as good as he’s been since the Indians traded two top prospects for him on July 30. The right-hander has allowed just one earned run in 15 innings in two home starts.
Blanked for six innings by Paulino, the Indians scored twice in the seventh on Jack Hannahan’s RBI single and a bases-loaded walk by Ezequiel Carrera to take a 2-1 lead.
Carlos Santana drew a one-out walk and Kosuke Fukudome singled. One out later, Hannahan, who nearly drove in the tying run in the fifth, grounded a hard single to center. Santana never hesitated rounding third and slid home, tagging the plate with his outstretched left hand.
Paulino walked No. 9 hitter Lou Marson and was pulled for Tim Collins. Carrera then worked his walk, taking ball four on a low full-count pitch to force in Fukudome. It was more tough luck in Cleveland for Paulino, who threw six shutout innings on July 31 against the Indians but got a no-decision.
Before the game, Thome said he simply wants to fit in and help the Indians win the division, something he did six times with Cleveland before leaving in 2002.
Now an elder statesman, Thome, who was hitting home runs for Cleveland when new teammate Lonnie Chisenhall was still in diapers, sees parallels with the 2011 Indians and previous squads.
“It’s a lot similar to what we had in the ‘90s,” Thome said. “They’re energetic. You can see that playing against them. That’s what intrigued me about coming here. You roll the dice, you go out and have a fun September, and anything can happen.”
Eric Hosmer put the Royals up 1-0 in the fourth, when he hit Jimenez’s first pitch over the wall in right-center. It was Hosner’s 12th homer, and Kansas City kept pressure on by loading the bases on three consecutive singles. Jimenez, though, got Chris Getz on a pop to second and retired Alex Gordon on a soft liner.
On the day Thome plugged one hole for the Indians, they had two others pop open as right-hander Josh Tomlin (elbow) and outfielder Michael Brantley (wrist) were placed on the disabled list, joining four other Cleveland starters. It’s been one injury after the next this season for Acta.
“It’s tough,” he said.
The Indians hope Thome can make it easier.
NOTES: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was thrilled Thome went back to Cleveland, where some fans used to boo him for leaving. “Anybody in this game would tell Cleveland fans ‘..., I’m not going there,’” Guillen said. “Jim Thome, that’s why there is only one Jim Thome in baseball. I tip my hat to him and I have more respect for him now than ever.” ... Gordons’s assist was Kansas City’s 44th, also best in baseball. ... Acta said he wanted to “run into the street and scream” when he learned the Indians had landed Thome. ... Paulino also has the distinction of giving up a 490-foot homer to Thome, the longest in Target Field history, on July 17. Thome also holds the record for the longest homer in Progressive Field, a 511-foot blast on July 3, 1999, against Kansas City.