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Tribe backs Huff's gem in sweep of O's

Tribe backs Huff's gem in sweep of O's

CLEVELAND -- The Orioles proved to be the perfect tonic to the Tribe's late-season travails.

An 11-game losing skid has given way to a three-game winning streak for the Indians, who completed a three-game sweep of the O's with Sunday's remarkably easy 9-0 victory at Progressive Field.

To say the Indians needed a weekend like this is an understatement. They entered it in danger of tying a club record for consecutive losses set in 1931.

"Any time you win," catcher Kelly Shoppach said, "it's a lot more fun."

After these three games, it's the O's in double-digit streaking territory, as they've lost 10 in a row, falling deeper into last place in the American League East. As for the Indians, this series pulled them out of the AL Central cellar. They came into Sunday with a half-game advantage on the fifth-place Royals, and a six-run first inning against Baltimore starter Chris Tillman all but ensured Cleveland wouldn't lose it.

The Indians unloaded on Tillman to post their highest-scoring first inning of the season and give rookie David Huff a firm base for his team-high 11th win.

Jamey Carroll filled in for Michael Brantley, who was out for the second consecutive day with a sore right ankle, in the leadoff spot and got the inning going with a single. Luis Valbuena doubled to put two runners in scoring position. Asdrubal Cabrera's double to right scored both to make it 2-0.

Two outs later, Matt LaPorta kept the inning going by drawing a walk and Andy Marte singled to put runners at the corners. The inning was capped in a big way when Shoppach launched a three-run homer to left to make it 6-0.

That inning made it an easy afternoon for the lefty Huff. But to Huff's credit, he didn't get complacent with the big lead. Rather, he gave the Indians one of the strongest outings of his rookie season.

"That was another test for him," manager Eric Wedge said. "Regardless of the score, you still have to pitch the ballgame. If you're working off the score, then you're getting defensive, and you can't do that."

Huff defended the lead by going eight scoreless innings, allowing just five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. This was his final start of the season, as he'll move to the bullpen during the season-ending four-game set in Boston.

He certainly went out on a high note.

"I was just throwing strikes around the zone," Huff said. "My defense was phenomenal. They had my back the entire game."

The Indians continued to back Huff with a few runs of unnecessary insurance. They posted a pair in the fourth, when Carroll and Valbuena each drew a walk off Brian Bass. Cabrera came through with an RBI single and Jhonny Peralta added a sacrifice fly. And in the seventh, LaPorta connected with Chris Lambert's first-pitch fastball for a leadoff shot to make it 9-0.

Huff has had this kind of help before. In truth, a good portion of his 11-8 record is a product of good fortune, as he's had an average of 5.8 runs of support per start.

But Huff has also benefited from the support of his teammates in other, less tangible ways. He's the first to admit he's entered what he called "unchartered territory," with regard to his number of innings pitched this season. Yet he's finishing the season strong, and his 11 wins are impressive, considering he didn't join the rotation until the middle of May.

"It's been a sweet ride ever since," Huff said.

It hasn't always been smooth, though. Huff has had his share of ups and downs.

"It's been a great developmental year for him," Wedge said. "It's tough for young pitchers to be consistent. There are a lot of adjustments that have to be made. He's answered that call. I like his focus and his attitude. He has a little bit of an edge to him."

The Indians just barely edged the O's on Friday and Saturday in dramatic affairs -- or, at least, as dramatic as games can be when they involve two teams with a combined 62 games under .500. The finale was a blowout. By coming out on the right end of said blowout, the Indians swept the O's for the first time since Aug. 19-21, 2005. This was the Tribe's first sweep of an opponent since July 24-26, at Seattle.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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