Tribe hands Mulder first loss since July 1

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- For nearly a month now, the Cleveland Indians have been moving steadily toward their sixth division title in seven years.

This week, they're finally looking like they deserve it.

Juan Gonzalez had three hits and drove in two runs Thursday as the Indians emerged from their hitting slump, pounding Oakland ace Mark Mulder in a 9-7 victory over the Athletics.

Although the Indians played .500 ball for six weeks after the
All-Star break, their AL Central lead steadily increased because of
the Minnesota Twins' freefall. The Indians trailed Minnesota by
five games on July 16, but their latest victory pushed them 6½
games ahead of the Twins, who are 10-30 since the break.

With eight victories in 11 games, the Indians are back on track
-- and with a big outing on Thursday, they looked a bit like the
1990s Cleveland powerhouses.

"We're playing with more intensity, and we're swinging harder," Gonzalez said. "We're getting ready for the playoffs out there ... but we're trying to get consistency, because that's the key."

After losing the opener in Oakland on Barry Zito's four-hitter,
Cleveland took three straight from the A's, who hadn't lost that
many in a row since mid-June.

As a reward for three impressive wins over the wild card-leading
A's, including Mulder's first defeat at the Coliseum since April 6,
the Indians get this present: a weekend series in Seattle.

"We had the poise to come back and win three times against a really good team," Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel said. "When I go have a drink tonight and eat, it's going to feel good. But when I leave that table, I'm going to be thinking about the Mariners."

The Indians were hitting below .200 over the last two weeks, but they broke out on Thursday after getting just 18 in the first three games. Every Indians starter had a hit by the fourth inning, and seven drove in a run.

"The last three days, they had an answer for everything we
threw at them," Oakland manager Art Howe said. "They countered
every move we made. That (third) inning when we came back was a
momentum inning -- and then we gave it right back to them."

Mulder and Cleveland rookie C.C. Sabathia -- two of the AL's top
young starters -- both had dismal outings as a series dominated by
pitching ended with an offensive show.

Mulder (15-7), who trails only Roger Clemens in AL victories,
had his seven-game winning streak snapped. Mulder yielded 10 hits -- just one for extra bases -- and eight runs in 3 2/3 innings to lose
for the first time since July 1.

Sabathia, pitching in front of dozens of friends and family
members from his nearby hometown of Vallejo, fared no better. He
couldn't survive the third inning.

The Indians staked Sabathia to a 5-0 lead in the second, but he
yielded five hits, five runs and three walks before leaving with
the game tied one inning later. In the dugout, he furiously threw
his hat and his mitt in frustration.

"I got a little too excited," said Sabathia, who stayed at his mother's house this week. "You have to keep on an even keel when you're pitching, and for the most part, I have.

"It's been fun being home. Nothing bugged me -- except the way I

The Indians jumped on Mulder in the second, using five singles
and Olmedo Saenz's error at first base. Cleveland got three more
runs in the fourth -- again on a series of five singles -- in a rally
highlighted by Gonzalez's two-run single.

It was the second straight poor outing for Mulder, who lasted
just four innings in front of his own hometown fans at Comiskey
Park last week. He has given up 16 hits with a 14.08 ERA in his
last two starts.

"I had no trouble with my (sore) back," Mulder said. "I just
kept making a lot of mistakes out there. The most disappointing
thing was that we tied it back up, and then I gave up three more
runs right away."

Saenz hit a solo homer in the seventh to make it 8-7, but
Cleveland added an insurance run in the eighth when Omar Vizquel
tripled and scored on Ellis Burks' single.

Charles Nagy (5-6), who was dumped from Cleveland's rotation
earlier this month, allowed one hit and one run over 2 1/3 innings
for the victory.

Bob Wickman, who got the save on Tuesday and the win on
Wednesday, pitched the ninth for his 23rd save in 26 chances.

With the A's in the midst of a stretch of 22 games in 23 days,
Jason Giambi got the day off until he pinch hit in the ninth and
hit a game-ending grounder. He has been bothered by a sore leg,
though it's not thought to be serious.

Game notes
Cleveland used 11 relievers in the last two games. ...
Roberto Alomar, who stole two bases on Wednesday night, did not
start but came in as a defensive replacement in the ninth. ...
Sabathia, a big A's fan while growing up, allowed 12 hits and 12
runs while lasting just 5 2-3 innings in his two starts against
Oakland this season.