CLEVELAND -- The weather was gray and ugly, with rain pouring down for much of Tuesday's matinee against the White Sox. For the Indians, though, this day was a beauty.
The Tribe shook off its struggles of a night earlier, beat up on Mark Buehrle and got a strong return from C.C. Sabathia to post a 7-1 victory over their AL Central rivals in front of 22,630 fans at Jacobs Field. So it was raining? Big deal. That type of weather comes with the territory in these parts. "It's Cleveland," Sabathia said with a shrug. And Sabathia was, well, Sabathia, which is what the Indians were hoping for. Making his return to the rotation after missing a month with a right oblique strain, Sabathia couldn't give the Indians length, but he did give them outs. For five innings, Sabathia (1-0, 4.91 ERA) kept the White Sox in check, to the tune of a run on five hits with four walks and two strikeouts. "C.C. was really good," manager Eric Wedge said. "I knew he was excited to get back out there. He used all his pitches and showed good control, considering he hadn't been out there in a while." Not being out there had begun to get aggravating for Sabathia, who watched his teammates struggle to find consistency on the mound during his absence. "It's hard when you're on the DL and the team is struggling," he said. "You know you should be out there to help." In this outing, though, Sabathia got plenty of help, mainly from designated hitter Travis Hafner, who pounded out four RBIs for the second straight day. The first three of those big runs came in one swing of the bat from the man known as Pronk. In the first inning, after Jason Michaels had walked and Jhonny Peralta had singled, Hafner took Buehrle's 1-1 pitch 418 feet out to right field for his ninth homer of the season. "I haven't had much success against [Buehrle]," said Hafner, who had just four hits in 25 previous at-bats against the White Sox ace. "But every time out is a new time." This start was essentially a new start to the season for Sabathia, who had come out of his Opening Day outing against these same Sox after just 2 1/3 innings. But he showed no signs of rust. "He was nice and relaxed," catcher Victor Martinez said. "He wasn't overworking. He was just relaxed and letting the ball go." When he let go of a pitch that Joe Crede whacked to center field in the fourth, Sabathia thought he had given up a sure double. Instead, center fielder Grady Sizemore made an outstanding dive toward the wall to make the catch. What Hafner liked most about the play was the dirt it left on Sizemore's face. "It made him look tough," Hafner said. Can that be taken as a suggestion that Sizemore doesn't look tough as it is? "He's GQ," Hafner replied with a smile. Fair enough. But Sizemore wasn't the only one looking tough in this game. The offense continued to click against Buehrle (3-2, 3.76) as it wore on, with Martinez and Eduardo Perez notching consecutive RBI singles in the fifth, and Jhonny Peralta and Hafner doing the same in the sixth. That all served to give the Indians a 7-1 lead Sabathia and relievers Jason Davis and Danny Graves had no trouble maintaining. And as if the pitching and hitting didn't go well enough for the Tribe, the club even saw Martinez throw out his first baserunner, Pablo Ozuna, in the fifth inning after 26 ill-fated attempts this season. "He had a look on his face of relief," Sabathia said. "I was glad I was out there to see it." The Indians were glad Sabathia was out there, too, because he lends an extra dose of credibility to their rotation that could help them make up what is now a 4 1/2-game deficit against the Sox. "He's very well-respected on this team," Hafner said of Sabathia. "He's the ace of our staff. It's a huge pick-me-up to have him on the mound." Enough of a pick-me-up, it appeared, to make a rainy day look beautiful to the Tribe.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.