Originally created 04/11/98

Diamond roundup: Thome hits big dinger to win game



CLEVELAND -- Finally, Cleveland got to have the celebration it's been waiting for since October.

Jim Thome hit a three-run, game-winning homer in the 10th off Troy Percival as the Indians came back to win their home opener 8-5 Friday over the Anaheim Angels.

Kenny Lofton, away in Atlanta for a year, was welcomed back with several warm ovations. He was up to his old tricks right from the start, scoring the first run of the game after doubling and stealing third.

"I was just missing the atmosphere around here," Lofton said. "The stadium, the cheers, the players. It's something else."

After the Indians blew leads of 4-1 and 5-4, Thome ended the four-hour game with a line-drive homer, his first, into the frenzied masses of the standing room only patio in left.

The crowd of 42,707 -- Cleveland's 212th consecutive sellout -- got to party the way they've wanted to since the Indians lost Game 7 of the World Series.

There was no sign that the disappointment in Miami had carried over to this season, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Indians' last World Series title in 1948.

"If you're a baseball player right now in the '90s, there's no better place to be than Cleveland," said Thome, flushed with excitement like a Little Leaguer. "And I'm the hero. I mean, pinch me. I don't even know if I'm here."

It wouldn't be baseball season in Cleveland without comebacks -- and game-winning homers against Percival. The Angels' closer dropped to 0-4 lifetime against the Indians, allowing 13 earned runs in 16 innings.

"He's a great closer," Thome said. "He's going to succeed way more than he's going to fail."

Not against the Indians.

Last April, he allowed homers to Brian Giles and Sandy Alomar in the ninth inning of the Indians' 10-8 victory in Anaheim. Two of his blown saves in 1996 came in Cleveland, and he also gave up ninth-inning homers to Albert Belle, Alomar and Thome in a 4-1 Cleveland win at Anaheim in April, 1996.

"You have to pitch inside. I didn't do that," Percival said. "That mistake won't be made again. I threw a pitch and I got beat."

The Indians raised their second AL pennant in three years and received their championship rings from Cleveland Hall of Famer Larry Doby before the game.

"I want to be here next year when they get rings for the whole thing," Doby said.

Eric Plunk (1-0) pitched a perfect 10th for the win after new closer Mike Jackson blew his first save in five chances in the ninth. Percival (0-1) allowed his first runs of the season.

Percival allowed a one-out single to Manny Ramirez and walked Giles. After striking out Travis Fryman, who had two doubles, Thome hit the game-winner.

David Justice broke a 4-4 tie with a single that scored Omar Vizquel from second in the seventh off Mike Holtz. Jose Mesa, who blew the save in Game 7 of the World Series, pitched 1 1-3 scoreless innings before yielding to Jackson, who gave up Garret Anderson's two-out, 0-2 RBI single to tie it.

Lofton, leading off Cleveland's home opener for the sixth time this decade, immediately put a charge in the place. He slapped a double down the left field line off Allen Watson, bolted to third with his fifth steal and scored on Shawon Dunston's sacrifice fly.

Fryman made it 2-0 with an RBI double to right.

"I was just trying to go out and do what I do, and not try to do anything different," said Lofton, who had a sub-par, injury-plagued season with the Braves last year. "I lucked out and got a hit. That's what I do."

Vizquel, winner of five straight Gold Gloves, may have made the most spectacular play of his career in the third inning.

With Darin Erstad on third and two outs, Jim Edmonds hit a sharp grounder to shortstop side of second. Vizquel dived to his left, picked the ball cleanly, then spun on his rear-end and threw from the ground to easily get the speedy Edmonds and preserve a 2-1 lead.

"It is my best because of the occasion," said Vizquel, who also had three singles and drove in two runs despite a finger on his throwing hand that was so swollen he couldn't grip a bat.

"After I made the play, I got up and I celebrated a little bit. And I said, `What about the finger?' "

The Angels tied it at 4-4 with three in the fifth. They got two runs on Edmonds' single and an error by Lofton. Cecil Fielder tied it with an RBI double to right.

Cleveland's Bartolo Colon, who pitched a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in his first start, allowed four runs and eight hits in 4 2-3 innings. He walked three and struck out five.

Watson allowed four runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings, walking one and striking out four.

NOTES: Alomar returned to the lineup after missing five games with a strained left groin. ... Cleveland reliever Paul Shuey left with one out in the seventh with a strained right groin. ... Cleveland's starting lineup came in with a .368 average (25-for-68) with five homers lifetime against Watson. ... The Indians have sold out the entire season, but with a catch. The club put 100,000 bleacher, standing-room and miscellaneous tickets on sale March 7. OfficeMax, whose logo is emblazoned on the right-field wall, purchased the several thousand leftovers. The company will donate some to Cleveland Indians Charities. ... Comedian Drew Carey threw the ceremonial first pitch.

RED SOX 9, MARINERS 7: Mo Vaughn's grand slam capped a seven-run ninth inning against Seattle's shaky bullpen, and the Boston Red Sox overcame Randy Johnson's brilliant pitching for a win over the Mariners.

Johnson struck out 15 and allowed just two hits in eight innings. But he had thrown 131 pitches and Seattle manager Lou Piniella decided to lift him.

Bad decision.

Four relievers faced seven batters in the ninth and every one scored as the Red Sox ended a three-game losing streak by winning their home opener.

TIGERS 7, ORIOLES 1: Brian Hunter, Bobby Higginson and Damion Easley homered and Tim Worrell got his first AL win as the Detroit Tigers beat Baltimore, ending the Orioles' winning streak at seven.

Hunter and Higginson hit solo homers off Doug Drabek (1-1) in the first inning, and the Tigers broke it open with three in the fifth.

Brady Anderson homered for Baltimore.

Baltimore, which hadn't lost since opening day, was bidding to become the third Orioles team to start a season 8-1, matching the 1966 and 1996 clubs.

YANKEES 17, A'S 13: Yankee Stadium had never seen a game like this in its storied 75-year history. The A's and Yankees should have played this one on a softball field in Central Park.

Oakland and New York opened the famed ballpark's 75th anniversary season with the highest scoring game ever in Yankee Stadium, a victory that was anything but major league caliber.

Tino Martinez hit a three-run homer, drove in five runs and scored four to lead New York. The 30 combined runs eclipsed the previous high, a 17-11 win by New York over the Philadelphia Athletics on June 3, 1933.

How ugly was it?

Consider these numbers: 30 runs, 32 hits and four errors. Add to those, 10 pitchers, 18 walks, a 12-run, 23-batter fifth inning in 4 hours and 6 minutes. It's no wonder the seventh-inning stretch received one of the day's loudest ovations.

PIRATES 4, MARLINS 1: The Florida Marlins' unprecedented first-to-worst slide continued with a club-record ninth consecutive loss, to the Pittsburgh Pirates and rookie Jose Silva.

Jose Guillen and Lou Collier tripled within a span of three batters in a three-run second inning as the talent-depleted Marlins fell to 1-9 -- the worst start ever for a defending World Series champion.

The worst start by a defending champion had been 1-8, an ignominious mark shared by the 1947 Cardinals, 1964 Dodgers and 1984 Orioles.

The Marlins have not won since beating the Cubs on opening day March 31 and are 0-9 in April. Their 1-9 record is a near-reversal of their 8-1 start of last season.

CUBS 13, EXPOS 0: Henry Rodriguez, given a warm reception in his return to Olympic Stadium, celebrated with a career-high five hits, leading Kevin Tapani and the Chicago Cubs over the Montreal Expos.

Rodriguez, traded to the Cubs last December in one of Montreal's many cost-cutting moves, hit a three-run homer that highlighted a six-run first inning.

Rodriguez got a standing ovation from the crowd of 9,982 when he singled in the ninth inning to complete his 5-for-5 evening.

Tapani (2-1) pitched a three-hitter for his eighth career shutout.