CLEVELAND (AP) -- 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 on Saturday night, pulling the Indians within 3½ 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 11½ games off a Chicago lead that reached 15 on
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 host a three-game series against Cleveland
"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.
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.
It's rarely easy for Wickman, who walked Mike Sweeney to open
the ninth before striking out Brown. Angel Berroa singled, but
Wickman got Mark Teahen on a slow roller to first and struck out
Justin Huber for the final out.
The Indians' surge hasn't shocked Kansas City manager Buddy
Bell, who was Cleveland's bench coach earlier this season before
being hired by the Royals.
"It's all about pitching," Bell said. "If you get good
pitching, you have a chance, and they've got some hitting over
there, too. It doesn't happen overnight, but it's not what you
would call a huge surprise. I could see it progressing."
Crisp's homer highlighted the Indians' five-run first off
Runelvys Hernandez (8-12), who lasted just three innings.
With 16 games left, the Royals (48-98) are guaranteed to have
the third-most losses in franchise history. Only the 2004 Royals
(58-104) and 2002 Royals (62-100) had more than this Kansas City
"We got back in the game, but it seems we never have enough,"
Bell said. "We have too many holes in the lineup to keep things
The Indians took the field knowing Chicago had lost 5-0 at
Minnesota, and they didn't waste any time getting to Hernandez, who
came in 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA in five career starts against
Grady Sizemore walked leading off, Crisp followed with his 14th
homer, and the Indians scored four times before making their first
Jhonny Peralta doubled, Travis Hafner singled and Victor
Martinez's RBI single made it 3-0. Ben Broussard and Ramon Vazquez
then hit run-scoring groundouts off Hernandez, who was making his
first start since Aug. 21.
With 17 victories, Lee, who has two starts left, should get some
consideration for the AL Cy Young Award.
Lee, though, would give it to Los Angeles right-hander Bartolo
Colon, whom the Indians traded to Montreal in 2002 for Lee,
Sizemore and infielder Brandon Phillips.
"I think he [Colon] has got me by a little bit," said Lee, 8-0
with a 3.55 ERA in his last 12 starts. "I might have to throw two
shutouts. If I had to pick a winner, it would be him."
Kansas City has lost 21 of 25 road games. ... Lee is the
first Indians pitcher to win eight straight decisions since Charles
Nagy in 1996. ... Royals 2B Andres Blanco made a sensational diving
catch to rob Broussard of a hit in the third. Blanco raced back,
left his feet and laid out to snag Broussard's soft liner before
landing hard. ... With Sizemore and Peralta (both are 23) each
having at least 20 homers, the Indians have two players under 24
with more 20 or more homers for the third time. Ken Keltner and
Jeff Heath did it in 1938, and Oscar Gamble, George Hendrick and
Charlie Spikes hit over 20 homers apiece in 1973. ... Indians minor
league pitcher Jason Stanford was arrested and charged with
disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in Cleveland early