INDIANS 1, ROYALS 0
CLEVELAND — C.C. Sabathia was as close to untouchable as he has been all season. He needed to be.
With little assistance from his offense, the Indians’ ace was forced to pretty much go it alone in the series opener with Kansas City on Tuesday night. As he has done for much of the year, Sabathia proved he was more than up to the task, pitching Cleveland to a 1-0 victory over the Royals.
A solo home run from reserve outfielder Franklin Gutierrez to lead off the third inning was enough for the Indians to get back on the winning track at home, where they improved to a major league-best 20-6 on the heels of dropping two consecutive home games for the first time all season.
They lead the Tigers by 31/2 games in the Central Division.
Nearly all the credit goes to Sabathia, who was dominant throughout his fifth career shutout and his first complete game of the season, allowing just five hits, while striking out eight. The big left-hander didn’t allow a runner to reach third and just one to advance to second.
“C.C.’s been good a number of different times this year,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge, whose team is 12-1 when Sabathia starts. “But when you’re talking about a 1-0 ballgame and tight throughout, it makes it that much better.
“That’s why he’s our No. 1, that’s why he’s leading our staff and that’s why he was out there in the ninth inning to finish it off.”
Sabathia, who led the majors with six complete games and the American League with two shutouts last year, upped his win total to a league-leading nine against one loss.
His lone defeat came May 11 at Oakland, with Sabathia allowing more than three runs for just the second of three times in 13 starts this season.
Of the five hits Sabathia allowed to Kansas City, two were infield singles, two were grounders up the middle and one was a bloop hit to right. He allowed just two hits over his final five innings of work.
“Right at the top,” said Sabathia, when asked where he would rank the performance this season. “I felt like I was in command. I had command of both sides of the plate.”
Sabathia didn’t walk a batter for just the second time all season. He has limited the free passes to 14l, with just one each in six previous starts.
“I’m trying to make guys earn it instead of trying to be too fine,” he said.
Sabathia looks like an All-Star with a little more than a month left before the break and the Midsummer Classic in San Francisco, which just happens to be in the pitcher’s home state.
“We’ll see. That’d be nice but it’s a long ways away,” said Sabathia, a two-time All-Star. “My focus is on winning games for this team.”
Sabathia had little room for error, thanks to the Indians’ inability to muster much offense against Royals starter Jorge De La Rosa.
De La Rosa entered his 12th start of the season with a 4-5 record and 4.97 ERA, getting roasted by the Indians for nine runs in 41/3 innings of a 10-3 loss at Kauffman Stadium on May 24.
He was a different pitcher this time around, allowing the single run on five hits and striking out seven over 71/3 innings. The Gutierrez homer was the only hit the left-hander allowed through the first three innings.
“He was a lot better today,” Wedge said. “He had a little bit more on his fastball. He pitched a heck of a game.”
Cleveland’s hottest hitter, catcher Victor Martinez, had two of the Indians’ five hits, while third baseman Casey Blake extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a base hit in his final at-bat in the eighth inning.
In addition to his big hit, Gutierrez also lent a hand defensively, sliding to make a catch in foul territory for the first out of the ninth.
Martinez also pitched in defensively, throwing a pair of would-be base stealers out, once to end the seventh inning after Sabathia struck out Mark Teahen. Sabathia pumped his first with emphasis after Martinez gunned down Angel Berroa at second.
“At that point, that was probably the biggest play in the game,” Sabathia said.
He would know since he owned it.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.