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The Battle Is Joined

Thanks to a seven-run seventh inning, the Indians beat the Devil Rays for the first time this season, and are now in a three-way tie for the Wild Card lead.

Most of the credit for that seventh inning outburst has to go to Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner; Sizemore hustled down the line to beat out a high-hopper, and Hafner fought off some tough pitches to drive Grady home. That run started the floodgates.

The Indians hit five home runs, and continue to mash on the road; they rank third in the AL in road slugging. Jhonny Peralta hit another home run, becoming only the second Indians shortstop to reach that mark. While Peralta probably won't top Lou Boudreau's 1948 campaign, he's having one of the best seasons ever by an Indians shorstop. And he's definitely making himself into a legitimate MVP candidate; Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) tackles this issue, and Peralta does compare favorably with both Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez.

Just as Jhonny Peralta has resurrected the career of Woodie Held, Grady Sizemore has brought to light the career of another underrated Indian. Jeff Heath was the last Indian hitter with more than 10 doubles, triples, and home runs in a season (actually, he had more than 20 of each in 1941). Of course, Heath had the advantage of hitting in League Park and its absolutely enormous outfield. But he makes for an interesting comparison. Heath had speed, but he was never much of a base stealer. He struck out a lot for that era. Heath played mostly in left, but given the weird dimensions of League Park, you could argue that left field was the most difficult outfield position.

Kevin Millwood fought his way through six innings, and although he wasn't at his best, he got the win (it figures, doesn't it?)

David Riske had his appeal heard today, so he'll probably be out pretty soon. Matt Miller is a couple days away, so the Indians bullpen might be a bit thin, at least until the rosters expand in September. That probably means Fernando Cabrera plays a more important role, and Howry, Sauerbeck and Betancourt will be pitching more often.

But, getting over these minor quibbles, the Indians are right in the middle of a pennant race. And that's all you can ask for as a baseball fan. The Indians are now thirteen games above .500 for the first time since 2001, are probably hitting as well as they have all season, and have had very good pitching lately. Just three years after the rebuilding began, the Indians have come full circle.