Four On The Fourth

The Indians' Fab Four for 2004 (Getty Images).

Despite losing 5-4 in 11 innings in Cincinnati on Sunday, there were plenty of smiles in the Indians' clubhouse.<br><br> Four Cleveland players in particular -- C.C. Sabathia, Matt Lawton, Victor Martinez and Ronnie Belliard -- were the happiest after each was named to the 2004 American League All-Star Team.<br><br> "We've got four going," said Sabathia. "I didn't expect it. I don't think anybody did. To get that kind of respect, four guys, is awesome. I'm excited for everybody."<br><br>

Sabathia will be going to Houston for his second consecutive All-Star game on July 13, as will outfielder Lawton, who played in the 2000 game in Atlanta. Young catcher Martinez and veteran second baseman Belliard are first-time all-stars.

"I'm happy to go with some of my teammates this year," said Sabathia, 23, who was Cleveland's lone representative, but did not get into the 2003 game in Chicago.

Sabathia, who will start tonight at Jacobs Field against Texas, leads the AL with a 2.77 ERA, but has only a 5-3 record because of the bullpen costing him several wins.

"It's a strong statement to the direction this club and this organization is going," manager Eric Wedge told reporters after he held a team meeting following yet another late-inning loss that dropped Cleveland two games under .500 at 39-41.

"It was very exciting to see the genuine excitement and reaction for each player as we told them," said Wedge, who added that applause from the entire club greeted each announcement. "It says a lot about our team.

"They are all well deserving. It's something to be proud of as a team, as an organization, and for those individuals. It's a testament to all the work they put in during the off-season."

Perhaps the most surprising pick was that of Belliard, 29, signed as a free agent with a .266 career average in five seasons in the National League.

This year, Belliard is batting .316 with five homers and 34 RBI -- just 24 short of his career high set in 1999 with Milwaukee. He's fifth in the league in doubles (24) and leads all AL players with a .400 batting average against left-handed pitchers.

"This is a big surprise to me," he said. "I never thought about being picked, but it's every player's dream to go to the All-Star game."

Martinez, 25, might have been the most elated.

"I knew I had a chance with my numbers, but I was still surprised," he told reporters. "I've always tried to work hard, but I never thought it would happen this quick for me."

In his first full season in the majors, the switch-hitter is batting .299 with 12 homers and 60 RBI and finds himself playing behind his boyhood hero, AL starting catcher Ivan Rodriguez of Detroit.

"That is like a dream for me," Martinez said.

After two nightmare seasons, a return to health has Lawton back in the game, where he went 1-for-2 with one run scored and one RBI in 2000 as a member of the Minnesota Twins.

Acquired in the controversial multi-player trade that sent Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets in December 2001, Lawton hit only .236 his first year in Cleveland and only .249 last year. He spent considerable time on the disabled list both years with a strained calf muscle, dislocated shoulder and dislocated right middle finger that still gives him some trouble.

"I've had better first halves and didn't make the All-Star team, but I am happy to be going," said Lawton, who one week ago said being an all-star was not that important to him -- but that Martinez was very deserving.

Lawton, 32, is hitting .317, with 14 homers, 48 RBI and 15 stolen bases. He is second in the AL with 62 runs scored.

"This is a reward for half of a season," he said. "The surprise for me was how many guys we have going. It let's you know the quality of the baseball we've been playing.

"If we would have gotten a few breaks here in the first half, we'd be in first place, and be up by a couple of games."

The loss Sunday came in typical Tribe style as the bullpen blew another lead -- helped by a wild throw from third baseman Casey Blake.

Cleveland has played 17 extra-inning games, the most in the majors, and lost 11 of them. The beleaguered bullpen, with only 13 saves in 30 chances, is to blame for most of the failures.

"This one shouldn't have come to that," said Wedge.

Blake's second error of the game was as much to blame. After ex-Indian Jacob Cruz drove in a run with a groundout to bring the Reds within 4-3 in the eighth inning, Blake simply threw away a two-out grounder hit right at him by Jason LaRue.

"I just feel sick to my stomach," Blake told reporters. "It was a mistake. I was just staying calm and easing it over there. In that situation, I've got to come up and be a man and throw it, be aggressive."

Cincinnati tied it later in the inning off David Riske and won it in the 11th off Rick White (3-3).

Lawton's sixth-inning homer broke a scoreless tie. A two-run double by Coco Crisp made it 3-0 in the seventh, but the Reds cut it to 3-1 in the bottom half against Indians starter Jake Westbrook.

Jody Gerut put the Tribe up 4-1 with an RBI single in the eighth -- before Blake's boot and the bullpen blew it.

Despite all the disappointments, Cleveland has its most all-star representatives since 2000, when Alomar, Chuck Finley, Travis Fryman and Manny Ramirez were selected. With their pared-down payroll of $34 million, the Tribe has more all-stars than the $127 million Red Sox (three) or the $100 million Angels (two).

The Indians even have a chance to get a fifth all-star. Travis Hafner is one of five players on an online ballot for fan voting. The winner will be added to the All-Star team as well. The other four are Twins outfielder Lew Ford, Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, and DH Frank Thomas and first baseman Paul Konerko of the White Sox.

Hafner is hitting .304 with nine homers and 49 RBIs. His 25 doubles are tied for third in the AL and his .403 on-base percentage is sixth.

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