Indians 4, Orioles 2
Grady Sizemore never heard the crowd's roar.
Striding to the plate for his first at-bat in 11 months on a surgically repaired left knee, Sizemore's mind raced. His thoughts drowned out a welcoming ovation from fans who couldn't wait to see him back in Cleveland's leadoff spot and roaming center field.
As he stepped into the box, the noisy ballpark went silent.
''There was a lot going on right there,'' he said.
The grueling rehab. The hours of practice. The wait.
All of it was over.
Sizemore homered and doubled in his first game back after major knee surgery last year, and the off-and-running Indians beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game series sweep. Baltimore has lost seven straight.
Cleveland's hustling All-Star center fielder and leadoff man, Sizemore hadn't played since last May, when he was forced to have microfracture surgery on his left knee. Finally healthy, he homered in his second at-bat off Brad Bergeson (0-2) and doubled in the fifth.
''I just wanted to go up there, have good at-bats, help the team and get a win,'' Sizemore said. ''I was definitely nervous.''
It hardly showed.
Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner also homered for the first-place Indians, who have won seven in a row at home and 11 of 13. Fausto Carmona (1-2) worked seven strong innings, allowing one earned run and five hits. Chris Perez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his fifth save.
Brian Roberts went 3 for 4 for the Orioles, who have lost eight of 10, effectively erasing their 4-0 start. Baltimore has scored just 17 runs in its slide.
''We didn't think scoring runs would be an issues with this team but it is,'' said first baseman Derrek Lee, who grounded into a double play to damage a potentially big inning in the fourth. ''We need to put up better quality at-bats.''
This was the day Sizemore had been building toward for months. He hoped to be back in time for opening day, but wasn't quite ready when the Indians broke training camp. He started the season on the disabled list and playing in the minors to build strength and confidence.
''I've been looking forward to this for a long time,'' Sizemore said before the game. ''It's finally here.''
He got a standing ovation when he came up in the first by Cleveland fans, many of whom have been diligently tracking the popular player's progress for months. Sizemore grounded out to second, but he busted down the first-base line like always before being thrown out.
In the third, Sizemore didn't have to run as hard.
He drove a 2-0 pitch from Bergeson over the wall in right for his first homer since Aug. 27, 2009, at Baltimore, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead. Sizemore doubled into the right-field corner in the fifth, coasting into second base without having to slide.
''Today is the first day I've seen him totally healthy since I've been here,'' said Perez, who joined the Indians midway through 2009. ''He put on a great show. It's only one game, but he looked good. It's a tremendous uplift to have a guy like him back with us.''
Off to a surprising 11-4 start, the Indians have gotten to first place in the AL Central despite their ace, Carmona, winning just one time in three starts, with Shin-Soo Choo and Santana yet to break out, and with Sizemore only in the lineup once.
''Numbers are not everything,'' Indians manager Manny Acta said. ''That's what it's all about, make sure you have more than two or three heroes for the whole all year.''
Sizemore only had to field one fly ball in tricky winds that gusted all afternoon through Progressive Field, making everything hit in the air an adventure. He hopes to be back in the lineup on Monday, when the Indians open a three-game series in Kansas City.
Hafner hit his fourth homer with one out in the sixth, giving Cleveland a 4-1 lead. Hafner didn't connect for his fourth homer last season until May 22, in Cleveland's 41st game.
The Orioles had runners at the corners with one out in the seventh but scored just once. After getting Luke Scott to line to left for a sacrifice fly, Carmona retired the next two batters on ground balls to short.
Baltimore also blew a chance to have a big inning in the fourth. The Orioles put two on with none out and had the meat of their order coming up, but Carmona got Lee to bounce into a double play and struck out Vladimir Guerrero.
Santana snapped an 0-for-23 slump with his leadoff homer in the second. The switch-hitting catcher, who was given a day off Friday, drove a 3-2 pitch from Bergeson over the wall in right-center for his second homer and first since opening day.
Notes: Baltimore's starters have a 8.45 ERA during the losing streak. The Orioles' staff has given up 48 earned runs in the last seven games after allowing only 14 in the first seven. ... Orioles RHP Koji Uehara walked Choo in the eighth, the first walk he'd given up in 36 appearances. It's the third-longest streak in history. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley went 41 games and John Smoltz 38. ... Cleveland starters have not allowed a run in the first inning of the past 13 games, and opponents are hitting just .095 (4 for 42) in their first at-bat. ... The Indians placed starter Mitch Talbot on the 15-day DL with a strained elbow. Acta said Talbot could be out ''a little longer'' than two weeks.