Ben Broussard hit a two-run homer to give the Indians a 5-2 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.<br><br…
He's First At First
But the realization that his manager is confident enough in his ability to at least tentatively name him as the starter is reason enough to make Broussard smile. "It makes me feel good, especially considering the start that I had this year," he said, reflecting back upon his terrible first two months that included an 0-for-27 slump in late May. Just as frustrating as the slump was the fact that through mid-June he had just one home run. "I had only one home run and the season was almost half over," Broussard said, admitting he heard rumors that he was either going to be traded or sent down to Class AAA Buffalo. "There are always going to be rumors when you are struggling," he said. "When you play in the major leagues, your job is to produce. If you don't, they are going to find someone who can do it. "The Indians like me and I know I like the Indians, but this is a business. When you are not driving in runs, you are going to be gone. That's just the way the game is. That constant shadow is always lurking. "You've got to try not to think about those things. You have to relax and try not to do too much. But that's easy to say, hard to do." The more Broussard pressed, the more he changed his approach at the plate. "When you struggle, you tend to get discouraged," he said. "You change things and I know I got away from my swing. You start changing things and then pretty soon everything is going down the tubes. Things can quickly get out of hand." Broussard's big break came when the Indians began interleague play in early June. A week-long trip to play the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves resulted in Broussard sitting on the bench for nearly a week. Since designated hitters are not used in National League ballparks, hot-hitting DH Travis Hafner was asked to dust off his first-baseman's mitt and see some action in the field. Rather than sulking and worrying about being sent down, Broussard used his free time to work on his swing. He reverted back to doing the things that got him to the majors. "You have to trust in yourself," he said. "You have to trust the swing that got you here." He detected a flaw in his swing. Quite frankly, he couldn't wait to show his new form in actual game action. In his first game back as a starter, he collected two hits against the White Sox on June 22. The next night, Broussard was again back on the bench. But this time when he was called upon to pinch hit, Broussard was confident he would get the job done. And he did. Facing ex-Indian Mike Jackson in the top of the eighth inning, he delivered a grand slam that helped carry the Tribe to a 9-5 victory. From that point on, Broussard became one of the team's best clutch hitters. Through late September, he was hitting .292 (33-for-113) with runners in scoring position and .636 (7-for-11) with 23 RBI in bases-loaded situations. He added a second pinch-hit grand slam home run Aug. 12 against the Blue Jays, thus becoming only the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to hit two pinch-hit grand slam homers in a single season. "This is the first time in my big-league career that I've been able to deliver in the clutch like this," he said. "I had a lot of opportunities in the minors, but it's such a different scale up here. I love it. I love being in those situations. I love it when I'm sitting there on the bench and I love it when the manager says to get up and hit. "I have confidence I can get the job done," he said, noting that unlike many pinch-hitters, he doesn't wait around to try and see a few pitches before he swings. "The pitcher is probably going to make one mistake when you are at the plate. It might be the first pitch as easily as the fourth. "I'll swing at the first pitch and sometimes I will make an out. But I'm not going to wait up there and take too many pitches." Broussard is hoping that the worst is behind him. "Hopefully, I won't have to go through it again," he said, noting that a long conversation he had with bench coach Buddy Bell alerted him to the problems often encountered by second-year players. "I was talking to Buddy and he said that some people say the second year is the hardest year. In the first year, you are just trying to settle in and survive. In the second year, you have been there and people expect you to do it (be successful)." He thanks the Indians for not giving up on him too quickly. "A lot of other teams would have sent me down as bad as I played to begin the year," Broussard said. "Fortunately, I still was able to play good defense and do other positive things for the team." But Broussard certainly doesn't plan to rest on the laurels heaped upon him by the manager. His future not only depends on how well he does, but also on how quickly 2003 No. 1 draft choice Michael Aubrey develops. Aubrey, also a left-hander, was off to a sensational start in 2004, but after being promoted from Class A Kinston to Double-A Akron, he suffered a hamstring injury that slowed him the rest of the year. Because of Aubrey and the presence of Aaron Boone, which might result in Casey Blake moving to first, Broussard will be under pressure to keep delivering the way he did starting on June 23. But the pressure can't be any greater than that which he encountered while going through what seemed like an 0-for-ever slump in May. Most RBI, American League players with fewer than 425 ABs Player, Team...............RBI.......AB Ben Broussard, Cle.......79.....401 Mike Sweeney, K.C.......79.....411 Craig Monroe, Det.........69.....423 Kevin Mench, Tex..........67.....419 Corey Koskie, Min.........66.....404 Matt Stairs, K.C.............66.....418
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