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Thome passes Belle with 51st homer of season

9/28/2002

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Jim Thome doesn't have the ball, just another
Indians record.

Thome hit his 51st homer, breaking Albert Belle's single-season
club mark, and C.C. Sabathia pitched seven solid innings Friday
night to lead Cleveland to an 8-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.

Thome, possibly playing his final series with the Indians,
connected in the third inning off Wesley Obermueller (0-2) with a
vintage 459-foot drive to center field.

"He's been unbelievable all year,'' Sabathia said of Thome,
already the club's career home run leader. "It seems like every
time he comes to the plate, he hits a home run.''

Thome's shot set off a wild scramble in the bleachers among a
group of fans who were all trying to get their hands on a souvenir
that could have even more sentimental value.

The Indians' most popular player, Thome is eligible for free
agency following the World Series and Cleveland fans are afraid
owner Larry Dolan won't spend enough money to keep the 32-year-old
first baseman.

The fan who finally retrieved the ball cut his finger in the
pileup and received medical attention.

And despite offers from the Indians of one of Thome's bats, a
game ball and a chance to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, the
fan wouldn't give up the home run ball.

"That's OK,'' Thome said.

"Hey,'' Lee Stevens yelled over to Thome. "Hit one in our
bullpen tomorrow, and we'll make sure you get it.''

Sabathia (13-11) allowed one run and four hits to improve to 7-1
in 11 career starts against the Royals. He walked three and struck
out five.

The 22-year-old left-hander, who went 17-5 as a rookie, is the
first Indians pitcher to win 30 games in his first two seasons
since Jim Perry in 1959-60.

Sabathia, who has won seven of his last nine decisions, said his
season turned around after he was robbed at gunpoint at a downtown
hotel in May.

"That was a turning point in my life, on and off the field,''
he said.

Karim Garcia also homered for the Indians.

The Royals lost their 98th game, setting a club record.

Kansas City's Mike Sweeney went 1-for-4 and is batting .343 with
two games left in his race with Boston's Manny Ramirez for the AL
batting title.

Ramirez is hitting .347 after going 1-for-2 against Tampa Bay on
Friday night.

"It's in the back of my mind,'' Sweeney said. "I got some good
advice from Jim Thome the other day. He said, 'Go out there, have
fun, do your best. Whether you get first, second, third or fourth,
it's still a great year.' I'll just do the best I can the next two
days and go home a happy man.''

Thome, who finished with 49 homers last season, tied Belle's
1995 mark with two monstrous home runs Wednesday night at
Minnesota.

With two outs in the third, Thome passed Belle with one of his
typical homers -- a towering shot that landed about one-third of the
way up in the stands.

"When I connected, all I heard was the crowd,'' Thome said.
"It was special. My mom and dad were here and my wife. And to do
it, breaking the record at home, makes it even better.''

A small but energetic crowd of 27,706 saluted Thome during his
home run trot, and the fans remained standing as No. 25 ducked into
the dugout. Thome emerged for a curtain call seconds later to
acknowledge the ovation with a wave.

Indians fans can only hope it's not one of his last.

Cleveland staked Sabathia to a 3-0 lead in the second inning.

Thome led off with a walk, extending his streak of reaching base
to 53 games, and Garcia singled. Stevens followed with a two-run
triple to left.

Two outs later, Eddie Perez doubled for his first RBI since
April 5.

Thome's shot made it 4-0 in the fourth, and the Indians quickly
added two runs in the fifth.

Coco Crisp singled, Omar Vizquel doubled and Ellis Burks singled
-- on three straight pitches -- to make it 5-0, and Thome followed
with an RBI single.

Garcia hit his 16th homer in 51 games in the seventh inning to
make it 8-1.

Game notes
Kansas City needs to split its final two games to avoid its
first 100-loss season. The Royals had 97 losses in 1970, 1999 and
2001. ... Perez went 112 at-bats without driving in a run. ...
Burks has a 14-game hitting streak. ... Sabathia is 4-1 with 2.51
ERA in six starts this month. ... Sabathia is just the fifth
pitcher since 1987 to win 30 games in his first two seasons,
joining Roy Oswalt, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Andy Pettitte. ...
Eight of Garcia's 16 homers have come in Sabathia's starts.