CINCINNATI (AP) -- Three hours before the first pitch, C.C. Sabathia had a bat in his hands and a smile on his face. He was ready to hit.
"I came in here with my batting gloves on," he said.Those formfitting gloves got a memorable workout.Sabathia sparked the Cleveland Indians' listless offense with his first career homer Saturday night, setting up a 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds that became a showcase for the All-Star pitcher.Sabathia's two-run shot off Elizardo Ramirez (0-2) put the Indians ahead to stay in the fourth inning and upheld the pitching staff's tradition of swinging like a DH whenever it faces the Reds.Seven AL pitchers have homered since interleague play began in 1997, four of them Indians. Sabathia, Dwight Gooden and Dave Burba have homered in Cincinnati, and Jason Davis homered off Atlanta's Russ Ortiz on June 20 last year.When he dug in with the score tied, Sabathia envisioned himself hitting a homer -- not that that's unusual."I swing as hard as I can every time," Sabathia said. "I just lucked out up there and actually caught up with one."With that one swing, Sabathia matched Cleveland's entire run production in its two previous games. Cleveland was batting a league-low .237 and had scored 154 runs, also the worst in the AL, after losing the series opener 2-1 on Friday.Sabathia provided his offense with a left-handed complement."I don't know his background swinging, but he's no slouch up there," Reds manager Dave Miley said.Sabathia (3-3) also emerged from a personal three-game losing streak, getting his first victory since April 29. He gave up seven hits and three runs -- two earned -- in six innings.Bob Wickman pitched the ninth for his 12th save in 14 chances. Wickman has converted his last eight save opportunities and hasn't allowed a run during eight appearances in May.The Reds have lost 17 of their last 22 games, tumbling into last place in the NL Central during a month of misery. They haven't won consecutive games since April 17-18.Ken Griffey Jr. drove in a pair of runs with a single and a groundout in his first two at-bats, helping the Reds pull ahead 3-1. He also had an over-the-shoulder catch on Aaron Boone's drive to the warning track in center field in the second inning.All Griffey could do was watch Sabathia's ball clear the wall in the fourth, drawing a huge cheer from a vocal contingent of Indians fans in the crowd of 31,083. Sabathia watched Griffey -- his favorite athlete as a boy growing up in California -- give chase and then give up as the ball landed a scant five feet beyond the wall."That was probably the best part of hitting the home run," Sabathia said. "You know I'm a big Griffey fan, and watching him chase that ball was huge."Sabathia dropped his head in respect for the opposing pitcher and rounded the bases without a hint of celebration, thinking about all the skeptical friends he could needle."I'm thinking about the people I'm going to call, because everybody told me I couldn't hit," he said. "It felt weird."Sabathia was 5-for-20 for his career when he connected off Ramirez, who fell behind 2-0 in the count and was just trying to throw a strike. Ramirez grabbed the rosin bag, squeezed it angrily and threw it at the ground while Sabathia completed his 360-foot
trot."He fell behind C.C. in the count, and he's got a good swing," Reds catcher Javier Valentin said. "That's something he's got to learn."Sabathia made contact in all three at-bats, hitting a flyball and a groundout. Manager Eric Wedge let him bat in the top of the seventh instead of sending up a pinch-hitter and then went to the bullpen in the bottom of the inning."There was no harm in giving him another chance," Wedge said.
Cleveland leads the intrastate series 20-15. ... The other three AL pitchers to homer in interleague play were Bobby Witt of Texas, Esteban Yan of Tampa Bay and Mark Hendrickson of Toronto. ... Sabathia has his own bats but uses them to collect souvenir autographs of other players. He's gotten Griffey and Adam Dunn to
sign them. Sabathia used a bat from teammate Jose Hernandez in the game. ... Catcher Victor Martinez snapped an 0-for-17 slump with an RBI single in the first. ... Left fielder Jody Gerut has hit safely in each of his first three games since returning from reconstructive knee
surgery last September. ... Reds pitchers have hit four batters during the series. ... Sabathia's homer was the 63rd off Cincinnati pitching, the most in the majors.