By SHELDON OCKER
Akron Beacon Journal
MINNEAPOLIS - It's almost automatic anymore that every time C.C. Sabathia pitches, he becomes the story of the game.
He did it again on Wednesday at the Metrodome. The Cleveland Indians beat the Minnesota Twins 11-0 to earn a split in the two-game series.
Holding the Twins to six harmless singles - one an infield roller, another a bloop to the outfield - Sabathia threw the third shutout and eighth complete game of his career.
In addition to striking out eight, Sabathia (4-1, 1.52 ERA) did not walk a batter and did not go to a three-ball count on any hitter. He delivered only 26 called balls. In his past four starts, encompassing 34 innings, he has walked only two.
"C.C. controlled the ballgame," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "He worked ahead all day."
Sabathia has made a remarkable alteration in his pitching style since midway through last season. Changes came after a frustrating first half that saw him leave games early because of high pitch counts and a tendency to let minor mistakes escalate into major rallies.
That was the old Sabathia. Since Aug. 5, he has compiled a 13-2 record and a 1.91 ERA in 19 starts.
Wednesday, he became the first Tribe pitcher to throw consecutive complete games since Bartolo Colon did it on May 26 and May 31 of 2002 against the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox.
Asked if he'd ever thrown so few balls, Sabathia said: "No, never. Me and (catcher) Victor (Martinez) talk about it a lot, about throwing strike one."
Added Martinez: "It's a lot easier when you get ahead in the count. I know that as a hitter and the pitcher jumps on you early."
No longer does Sabathia routinely light up radar guns at 96-97 miles per hour. Throwing 100 pitches in five innings also has become ancient history. In each of his past two starts, Sabathia has thrown 102 in nine innings.
His command has improved, and he consistently has batters off stride by throwing first-pitch curveballs and change-ups. Even when he is behind in the count - which hasn't been often this year - hitters can't count on Sabathia delivering a fastball.
One thing he had to overcome: It's fun to throw almost 100 mph.
"Yeah, especially in here today," he said. "When I woke up today, I had to tell myself not to get out of my routine. We have a rivalry with the Twins. Everybody in our division is a little like that."
In the past, Sabathia would become consumed when he pitched against the Twins - "I hate the Twins," he would say - so he didn't want the adrenaline flowing too freely Wednesday.
Sabathia hasn't abandoned throwing heat. When he feels it necessary, he can still push the radar-gun readings into the high 90s.
"That's what feels good," he said. "I think other hitters know that, too. But being able to throw all my pitches for strikes is it for me now."
It had been awhile since the Indians got to hammer away at Brad Radke. For the past couple of seasons, Radke had turned around his fortunes against the Tribe, though coming into Wednesday's game, his career record against them was still a lowly 10-16 with a 4.86 ERA.
That was the pitcher the Indians saw Wednesday. Radke (4-6. 7.44 ERA) lasted 5 innings and faded badly toward the end of the outing. He was charged with eight runs, 11 hits and two walks, after holding the Tribe to three runs the first five innings.
Casey Blake continued to hit like a guy who is leading the American League in batting, even after dropping to third place following an 0-for-5 night on Tuesday.
Blake rebounded in a big way, slamming his eighth and ninth home runs and amassing four RBI to lift his average to .354.
Victor Martinez showed signs of snapping his extended slump with a two-run double and two singles in five at-bats. After hitting .398 in April, Martinez was batting .162 in May.
"I'm still fighting it," Martinez said. "I need to keep working."
Asked the difference in his approach at the plate from April to May, he said, "If I knew, this wouldn't have happened."
Grady Sizemore, Jason Michaels and Aaron Boone each contributed two hits. Sizemore and Boone drove in one run apiece.
In all, the Tribe amassed 15 hits, but through the fifth inning it was hardly a runaway.
In the first five innings of the game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came out of the dugout to argue plays at home plate, first base and second base.
Gardenhire never got the chance to stir things up at third, but he still put up more of a fuss than his players.
Many of the 22,789 fans gave Gardenhire a standing ovation after he was ejected in the fifth inning for protesting an obstruction call on second baseman Nick Punto.
The applause was a rare moment of support for the Twins, who were victimized by another shaky performance by starter Radke and Sabathia's mastery of off-speed pitches.
"A couple of years ago, Sabathia would have just come after you with the hard stuff," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said of the two-time all-star. "Now, he gives you the changeup and splitter all day. If this was a night game, he would have been nasty."