Kouzmanoff's slam helps down ex-team
Clark walks in go-ahead run before third baseman connects
CLEVELAND -- It didn't seem the least bit ironic or peculiar to Padres third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff that his 10th-inning grand slam Saturday came against the team that allowed him to get to the Major Leagues, the team for which he hit a grand slam for in his first at-bat in 2006.
"Not really," Kouzmanoff shrugged.
No offense, Indians fans, but Kouzmanoff, who put an exclamation point on Saturday's 8-3 victory over Cleveland with a grand slam, doesn't feel like he has anything to prove to the team that traded him to San Diego.
Nor did Kouzmanoff feel any personal satisfaction in dropping the Indians with one fell swoop, other than helping his current team win a game that they trailed by three runs in the first inning against a pitcher (Cliff Lee) who was looking for his 11th victory.
"They did draft me, gave me a shot. But I've got no negative feelings toward the Indians. It's not like I'm out to get paybacks," Kouzmanoff said.
It's probably only looked that way to the Indians, who allowed three hits and a home run to Kouzmanoff on Friday and then two more hits, including the game-breaker in the 10th inning off reliever Edward Mujica at Progressive Field.
For the record, the trade that sent Kouzmanoff to the Padres in the winter of 2006 was all but hailed locally in San Diego as a bad move, considering the team parted ways with a popular player in Josh Barfield, who flopped in Cleveland last season and is currently on the disabled list.
As for Kouzmanoff, he's second on the Padres behind Adrian Gonzalez in home runs (10), RBIs (33) and games (69).
Oddly enough, in a game that featured a Jekyll and Hyde performance by starting pitcher Cha Seung Baek, Kouzmanoff's at-bat probably wasn't the most impressive or even the most important at-bat of the night.
Right before Kouzmanoff jumped on Mujica's offering, sending it into the first row of seats in left field, designated hitter Tony Clark worked a nearly improbable walk in a nine-pitch at-bat to force in a run for a 4-3 lead after falling behind, 0-2.
|"The first inning was tough. I was thinking too much, trying too much. I know their hitters and they know me."|
|-- Cha Seung Baek|
"It was one of those things were I was trying to get a ball to the outfield," said Clark, who took four balls after falling behind, including several close pitches. "The more pitches that I saw, the better chance I had of putting something in play."
It never came to that, though, as Mujica's full-count pitch missed low, allowing a run to score.
Heath Bell (4-3) picked up the victory with two scoreless innings of relief, striking out five while, though a case could certainly have been made for Baek, who allowed three runs in the first inning on two hits and two walks and looked lost.
The problem? Baek said he was thinking too much, especially since he's already faced the Indians this season while with the Seattle Mariners. Knowing the Indians had a nice look at him in a game April 30, Baek tried to be too fine with his stuff.
"The first inning was tough," Baek acknowledged. "I was thinking too much, trying too much. I know their hitters and they know me."
Pitching coach Darren Balsley and Black implored Baek to be more aggressive with his pitches and to focus on throwing a first-pitch strike and go from there. The results were stunning, as Baek retired 20 of the final 21 hitters he faced, including the last 16.
"I think you see that from time to time where you leave the 'pen and you just don't have it," Black said. "But the most important thing was he got the third out [of the first inning] and knuckled down and threw six no-hit innings."
Baek only walked one batter after the first inning and didn't allow another hit. He wasn't overpowering (three strikeouts) but worked ahead, worked fast and let his defense take care of the rest.
"You saw early-count strikes, you saw the fastball located; he threw some good splits and good hard sliders," Black said.
The game was eerily reminiscent of a relief outing Baek had with the Mariners on April 25 where he retired 15 consecutive batters at one point.
"Pretty good," Baek said of his finish Saturday against the Indians, smiling.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.