Back To Plan A
Bob Wickman ... glad to be back. (AP/Jeff Glidden)
Bob Wickman ... glad to be back. (AP/Jeff Glidden)
Indians Ink
Posted Jul 6, 2004

The Indians' 4-1 win over the Texas Rangers at Jacobs Field on Tuesday night was how team management envisioned things in spring training.

Cliff Lee had a strong start and the bullpen, led by Bob Wickman and David Riske, preserved it.

Travis Hafner and Ronnie Belliard each drove in two runs and Lee (8-1) continued to be Cleveland's top winner -- but the big story was the return of Wickman to the mound.

"I waited for that a long time," Wickman told reporters.

So did his teammates and Cleveland fans, who gave the veteran right-hander a loud ovation when he entered the game, got his first strikeout, and completed a scoreless inning.

Wickman made his first appearance in a big-league game since Aug. 10, 2002 -- and after elbow surgery, months of rehabilitation and a spring-training setback this past March.

"That was a huge moment out there," said Wickman, who was shown by TV cameras getting high-five congratulations in the dugout from all his teammates after leaving to a standing ovation from the fans.

"It really meant a lot to me," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to wake up and feel my arm tomorrow."

Wickman gave up one hit in working a scoreless eighth inning to help protect a three-run lead -- then turned it over to Riske, who earned his first save since April 22.

"I was away for two years," said Wickman, who was cheered as soon as he left the bullpen to enter the game. "That says a lot about the fans here that they would cheer for me like that."

As much as it was a salute to the 35-year-old Wickman, it was the fans' way of saying they hoped his return would solidify a bullpen that had blown 17 of 30 save opportunities before Tuesday.

Riske got only his third save in nine chances this year. The right-hander, who inherited the closer's job in spring training when Wickman had a setback in his rehab, showed the form that enabled him to save all seven of his save chances in a late-season trial last year.

Riske got off to a slow start this April, however, setting off a chain reaction in the Tribe bullpen that cause all sorts of mayhem. He gave way to Rafael Betancourt as closer at the end of May and then Jose Jimenez took over for a month before Riske was reinstalled in the role late last week.

Lee, on the other hand, remained the model of consistency. The left-hander gave up only one run -- Mark Teixeira's seventh-inning homer -- and four hits while striking out five.

More importantly, he improved to 7-1 in starts after an Indians loss this season.

Texas starter Nick Bierbrodt (1-1) walked seven in 3 1/3 innings, but didn't yield a hit until Hafner bounced a single to right with one out in the fourth.

The left-hander eventually loaded the bases and was replaced by right-hander John Wasdin, who retired pinch-hitter Jody Gerut for the second out of the inning.

Belliard, however, followed with a two-run single for a 3-0 lead.

Cleveland scored a second-inning run without a hit. Victor Martinez walked, went to second on a wild pitch, to third on a groundout and scored on an RBI fielder's choice by Hafner.

Cleveland's final run scored in the seventh when Lou Merloni singled with two outs and raced home to score on a double into the left-field corner by Hafner.

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