Indians beat A’s, Angels triumph over Mariners to wrap up AL division titles
CLEVELAND – From shoveling snow to spraying champagne.
The Cleveland Indians, who slipped and slid around April’s home opener during a freakish spring storm, capped an unforgettable season at Jacobs Field on Sunday with a sun-soaked championship.
Jake Westbrook struck out a career-high nine and Grady Sizemore had four hits as the Indians, fourth-place finishers a year ago, clinched their first AL Central title since 2001 with a 6-2 win over the Oakland Athletics.
The Indians became the second team in the majors to clinch. The Boston Red Sox assured themselves of at least the AL wild-card spot Saturday night.
When reliever Rafael Betancourt struck out Oakland’s Mark Ellis for the final out and his second save, the crowd of 40,250 erupted as one and the right-hander jumped into catcher Victor Martinez’s arms as the Indians poured onto the infield to celebrate.
Moments later, led by ace C.C. Sabathia, the club walked to center field and watched as a 2007 championship banner was hoisted atop the center-field scoreboard.
Overlooked as a contender in one of baseball’s toughest divisions, the Indians overcame a strange start and recaptured a crown they won six times in seven years from 1995-2001.
But for these Indians, little went as planned.
Their first homestand in April was postponed by snow, forcing the club to play three “home” games in Milwaukee’s Miller Park against the Los Angeles Angels. Three other games against Seattle were made up at the Jake.
ANGELS 7, MARINERS 4
ANAHEIM, Calif. – John Lackey and the Los Angeles Angels gave their fans another reason to wave those rally monkeys.
The Angels clinched their third AL West title in four years Sunday, with Lackey leading them to a 7-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
After losing two in a row to the Mariners, the Angels clinched in their final home game of the season. Wearing red and roaring, a sellout crowd was on its feet to see manager Mike Scioscia’s team return to the playoffs after missing out last season.
Hours after Cleveland clinched the AL Central, the Angels locked up their spot. On Saturday night, Boston assured itself of at least an AL wild-card slot.
Macier Izturis and Casey Kotchman homered in the third inning and that was enough for Lackey (18-9). The Angels ace held Seattle to two runs in seven innings.
Francisco Rodriguez, who was a rookie star with Lackey in the Angels’ drive to the 2002 World Series title, pitched the ninth for his 38th save in 43 chances.
The Angels’ 91-65 record gave them an insurmountable 8 1/2-game lead over the second-place Mariners.
Seattle was one game behind Los Angeles on Aug. 25, and two back when the Angels came to town two days later. The Angels swept the three-game series and the Mariners, who had lost five in a row at the point, went on to drop 10 of their next 12 and fall out of contention.
The first-place finish is only the sixth in the Angels’ 46-year history, and the trip to the postseason is just their seventh. Before their recent run of success, they hadn’t made the playoffs since 1986.
The only players remaining from the 2002 championship team are Lackey, Rodriguez, Garret Anderson, Scot Shields and Chone Figgins. All were key contributors to the team’s drive to the West title this year.
Los Angeles has one regular-season goal remaining – earning home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs by finishing with the league’s best record. They’re currently bunched near the top with the Indians, Red Sox and New York Yankees.