Indians, Angels Extend Division Leads

Wednesday, September 19th 2007, 7:18 am
By: News On 6

While other races around the majors seem to tighten every day, the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels have opened up some breathing room as they close in on playoff berths.

Travis Hafner hit a three-run shot and Cleveland unloaded for four homers off Justin Verlander in a 7-4 victory Tuesday night over the visiting Detroit Tigers, whose reign as American League champions appears to be nearing an end.

The Indians improved to 19-5 since Aug. 25 and extended their AL Central lead to 6 1/2 games over second-place Detroit.

``When you are chasing thoroughbreds, there is very little room for error,'' Tigers closer Todd Jones said. ``Anybody can do the math. They have really turned the screws. You can tell that they feel they are close and they want it.''

So do the Angels, inching closer to their third AL West title in four years.

John Lackey took a four-hit shutout into the ninth inning and host Los Angeles beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2-1 to reduce its magic number to four.

The Angels remained 8 1/2 games ahead of second-place Seattle with 11 to play. After wrapping up this three-game set Wednesday afternoon, they host the Mariners in a four-game weekend series.

``You'd like to get it done as quick as you can so you can get everything lined up for whoever you're going to play in the first round,'' said Lackey, who struck out 10 and walked two in eight-plus innings for his first win since Aug. 27.

The Indians and Angels both ended the night 89-62, a half-game behind Boston for the league's best record. The Red Sox lost 4-3 in Toronto and their AL East cushion was trimmed to 2 1/2 games when New York routed Baltimore 12-0 at Yankee Stadium.

That's the slimmest margin for both teams since April. The Yankees, who have won 11 of 13, also opened a 4 1/2-game lead over Detroit in the wild-card race.

``We've still got work,'' said manager Joe Torre, whose team is a season-best 23 games over .500. ``We cannot allow ourselves to get caught up in what people will assume is a foregone conclusion.''

In other AL games, it was: Minnesota 4, Texas 2; Kansas City 3, Chicago 2; and Seattle 8, Oakland 7.

Franklin Gutierrez hit a two-run homer and Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko added solo shots off Verlander (17-6), who had never given up four homers before and lost for just the second time in nine starts. Both of those were lopsided losses to the Indians.

Rookie pitcher Jensen Lewis (1-1) tossed three hitless innings for his first major league win. Joe Borowski worked the ninth for his league-leading 41st save.

Martinez snapped a 4-all tie in the sixth with his career-high 24th homer _ and fourth in 24 at-bats against Verlander. The Tigers led 4-1 in the fourth before Hafner hit his 23rd homer.

The Indians' 41st comeback win dropped their magic number to five for clinching the division _ and their first playoff appearance since 2001.

``It's pretty cool. It's right there,'' said starter Jake Westbrook, who got roughed up in five innings but managed to keep the Indians close. ``The offense really picked me up. They never let it get away.''

At Anaheim, Calif., Lackey (17-9) improved to 8-1 against the Devil Rays. After a leadoff double by B.J. Upton in the ninth, Francisco Rodriguez came on for his 36th save. He gave up an RBI single to Jorge Velandia.

``Offensively, we really had a rough night, but John picked us up and pitched one of the best games he's pitched all year,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Yankees 12, Orioles 0

At New York, Mike Mussina (10-10) allowed three singles over seven innings and Doug Mientkiewicz hit a three-run homer. Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui drove in three runs apiece for the Yankees, closing in on their 13th straight playoff appearance. Derek Jeter added three hits.

Mussina has thrown 12 2-3 scoreless innings over two outings since returning to the rotation. He has won at least 10 games in an AL-record 16 straight seasons.

Blue Jays 4, Red Sox 3

At Toronto, Eric Gagne (3-2) blew an eighth-inning lead for Boston. He walked in the tying run with two outs, then gave up a two-run double to pinch-hitter Russ Adams.

Gagne, who holds the major league record with 84 consecutive saves, has blown four late leads since joining Boston from Texas in a July 31 trade. All four games have ended as Red Sox losses.

A.J. Burnett (9-7) came within one out of a complete game and Scott Downs earned his first save of the season.

Twins 4, Rangers 2

At Minneapolis, Torii Hunter drove in two runs to set a career high with 104 RBIs and Joe Nathan got his 33rd save. Carlos Silva (12-14) beat Kevin Millwood (9-13).

Royals 3, White Sox 2

At Kansas City, Mo., Gil Meche (9-12) scattered four hits over seven innings and Billy Butler hit a two-run single. Joakim Soria earned his 16th save.

Mariners 8, Athletics 7

At Oakland, Calif., Raul Ibanez hit a grand slam and doubled in a run to help Jeff Weaver (7-12) beat Chad Gaudin (11-12). George Sherrill struck out three in the ninth for his second save.