Baseball's most productive offense of the last half-century exploded Thursday at Jacobs Field. In the process, Jim Thome made a little history.
The Cleveland Indians bunched all of their runs into the third and fourth innings as they punished the Boston Red Sox, 11-1, to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
The Tribe's scoring was capped by a grand slam from Thome, making the Cleveland first baseman the only major league player with two career slams in the postseason.
Thome, who also connected with the bases loaded in Game Six of last year's ALCS at Yankee Stadium, is fourth in major league history in postseason home runs with 14, behind only Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson (18) and Babe Ruth (15).
"Being a kid from Peoria (Ill.), I never thought people would have my name mentioned with those players, that's for sure," Thome said. "It's kind of nice to have them mention your name with that group."
The Indians scored 1,009 runs this season, making them the first team since the 1950 Red Sox to break the century mark. They had a club-record 33 innings of at least five runs. They pulled off that feat twice Thursday, scoring a Division Series-record six runs in the third and five more in the fourth.
Boston starter Bret Saberhagen lasted just 2 2/3 innings and his last pitch was deposited into the right-field seats by Harold Baines for a three-run homer. The Tribe put the game away on Thome's two-out grand slam to right off John Wasdin in the fourth.
The 11 runs tied the Tribe's postseason record, set in their 14-11 loss to Florida in Game Three of the 1997 World Series.
"It's a joy to be with this team," said third baseman Travis Fryman, who languished for eight years with the lowly Detroit Tigers before joining the Tribe last season. "I was so impressed by them when I was with Detroit. I'm even more impressed seeing
this up close every day.
"There's just no room to breathe with our lineup."
Since Boston's Pedro Martinez left Game One with a back injury, the Tribe has been in control of this series. Thome has homered in both games, giving Cleveland the pop it's needed in the wake of the 0-for-7, five-strikeout performance of Manny Ramirez, who had a franchise-record 165 RBIs in the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Boston offense has been non-existent. First baseman Mike Stanley is 5 for 7 while the rest of the Sox are just 6 for 53 (.113).
The top of the Cleveland order caused most of the chaos Thursday. Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar combined for five hits, five runs, four RBIs and reached base nine times. Vizquel's two-run triple to right put the Indians on top for good.
"Our hitting today was contagious," said Thome. "We have a little more speed than in the past, but we also have the power we've always had. Then you add a Roberto Alomar who can hit for power and bunt, and a veteran like Harold (Baines) and it's great.
"You have to pitch to somebody. The lineup allows us to kind of protect each other and that's what's nice."
With that kind of depth, walks can be lethal and Saberhagen found that out the hard way. He walked three men in the third inning and two scored. Saberhagen had walked just 11 in 119 innings all season and had only one three-walk game in his 22 starts.
"My thought process was to keep the first three guys off base," Saberhagen said. "What really hurt me today was the walks. We just have to let this one go."
Still, Saberhagen probably would have escaped major damage if his defense had done its job. Fryman led off the third with a walk and Sandy Alomar followed with a routine grounder to Nomar Garciaparra at short that should have been a double play.
It wasn't. Second baseman Jose Offerman's relay to first was high and Alomar crossed the bag as Stanley jumped to snare the ball. Instead of two outs and nobody on base, the Indians still had a rally going.
"Not getting that double play really hurt them," Baines said.
Cleveland took advantage as Lofton walked to set the stage for Vizquel. Roberto Alomar followed with an RBI double and Baines golfed the first-pitch he saw, a knee-high fastball, for his home run.
"A play or walk or pitch or hit can certainly turn a game very quickly," said Red Sox manager Jimy Williams. "It's just like going through a city, all the stoplights and all of a sudden, you get on the autobahn and there's no speed limit. That's the way this game goes. It's unpredictable."
One thing the Indians could count on was a strong game from starter Charles Nagy, who is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four postseason starts against Boston the last five years.
Nagy pitched five-hit ball over seven innings and retired 12 of the final 13 men he faced after Offerman's RBI single in the third gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
That advantage didn't last long and the Red Sox are now desperate. Williams snidely said he might try to reincarnate Babe Ruth for Saturday's game at Fenway Park to help team avoid the sweep. It was a joke with a deeper meaning: The Boston bats are being badly overmatched by their Cleveland counterparts."The momentum is our way but by no means are they going to lay down and die," Thome said. "We've got to keep the same mentality we've had the last couple days. With all the great hitters around me, I've been fortunate to get some good pitches and they went out. We just have to hope that continues for everybody."