CLEVELAND (AP) -- The consensus was that the Cleveland Indians
had slipped. With all the offseason changes, they wouldn't be
nearly as good this year.
Travis Fryman's faith was never shaken.
"I was surprised by how many people jumped ship," Fryman said.
"I kept looking around the locker room and saying, 'Do they see
all the people I still see around here?' We're much better than
people ever gave us credit for."
Sporting new uniforms and featuring a lineup radically altered
by trades and free agency, the Indians won their fifth straight
game and sent an early message to the Twins.
"This was a tone setter," said Lawton, who received several
phone calls from his former Minnesota teammates the past few days.
"They were really excited. That's all I heard, 'You guys lost
Robbie Alomar and Juan Gonzalez and the division is ours now.'
"We showed them we can still play the game."
Cleveland didn't catch Minnesota until after the All-Star break
last season but won its sixth Central title in seven years by going
14-5 against the Twins and clinching the division with a 9-1 win
over them on Sept. 30 at Jacobs Field.
It figured to be tougher for the Indians to repeat this season,
but with a 6-1 record through its first seven games, Cleveland is
showing no signs of decline.
"In my opinion," Fryman said. "We're still the best team in
Fryman hit his sixth career slam in the third inning off Eric
Milton (1-1), and Lawton connected against his former teammates in
the fourth, thrilling a sellout crowd of 42,441.
Milton, who didn't give up more than seven runs in any of his 34
starts last season and shut out the Indians on Sept. 28, was tagged
for a career-high nine earned runs and eight hits in four innings.
"I made some mistakes and I made some good pitches, too,"
Milton said. "They're still a great hitting team."
Rookie Ryan Drese (2-0), who made his season debut last week on
2½ hours notice, allowed four runs and eight hits in five shaky
innings. He walked five and struck out five.
The right-hander, who won the No. 5 starter's spot after an
impressive spring, was moved up in the rotation when personal
problems forced Chuck Finley to miss a start last week.
Ricardo Rincon, Mark Wohlers and David Riske finished up for
Cleveland, which wasn't expected to be as strong after trading away
Roberto Alomar and not re-signing free agents Juan Gonzalez, Kenny
Lofton, Marty Cordova and Dave Burba.
Fryman grew tired of hearing predictions that the Indians would
finish back in the Central pack.
"I kept scratching my head," he said. "I was like, 'Am I
stupid or missing something?' This is still a very, very good
Jacque Jones had four hits for the Twins, who stranded 12
Fryman's slam put the Indians up 7-4 in the third against
Milton, who gave up a walk, double and check-swing infield single
to Jim Thome to load the bases.
Fryman, limited to just 98 games last season because of
injuries, then drove a 2-0 pitch into the bleachers in left. He
already has two homers after hitting just three in 334 at-bats last
As he circled the bases, Lawton stared down Jones in center
field. The two close friends playfully teased each other all day.
"There is no better feeling," said Lawton, who spent 10 years
in Minnesota's organization. "I had this game circled three months
Minnesota took a 4-3 lead in the third off Drese, who escaped
more damage by stabbing Cristian Guzman's comebacker for the third
out with runners at second and third.
The Indians needed only six pitches to erase a 2-0 deficit in
Lawton singled and Omar Vizquel hit an RBI triple before Burks
drove Milton's first pitch over the wall in left for his first
homer to make it 3-2.
"We lost a lot of power," Burks said. "But we're eager to go
out there and show people we're still a quality team."
Cleveland unveiled its new, white vest tops and blue caps
with a script "I," replacing Chief Wahoo. ... The home opener was
the Indians' third this season after opening the year in Anaheim
and playing in Detroit's home debut last Friday. ... After opening
the season with a 10-game road trip, the Twins will finally play
their home opener Friday against Detroit. The Metrodome is sold
out. ... Finley, who skipped his first start last week after his
wife, actress Tawny Kitaen allegedly attacked him, will start
Tuesday against Joe Mays. ... Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell threw
out the ceremonial first pitch.