Importance was a relative term, though, two days after the freeway bridge that collapsed a few blocks away and killed at least five people. A crowd announced at 31,664 came to catch a ballgame and forget about the tragedy for a while.
The Twins honored the victims and rescuers with a video tribute and Interstate 35W decals on their batting helmets, plus a larger logo that was posted in remembrance behind the plate.
"It was an emotional couple days," said Michael Cuddyer, who had two hits in his first game back from the disabled list. "Still a little weird out there, but for the most part for us it got back to normal for the three hours that we were out there."
Actually it was 3 ½ hours, thanks in part to the patience Indians hitters showed against Santana (11-9), who lost his third straight decision.
Sabathia (14-6) became the AL's first 14-game winner, and Cleveland moved past Detroit into first place in the AL Central for the first time in nearly a month. Joe Borowski pitched a hitless ninth for his 30th save in 33 attempts.
"Hopefully we can put together a good streak here," said Sabathia, who won for only the second time in his last six starts.
Minnesota fell to 6 ½ games back after stranding eight runners. Torii Hunter and Alexi Casilla drove in runs, but Casilla made two mistakes in the field that helped Cleveland extend a one-run lead to 5-2 in the seventh inning.
Sabathia gave up eight hits and two walks while needing 107 pitches to complete six innings, but he struck out three and worked his way out of trouble well to win for the second time in his last six starts.
"You can't go into games saying you're going to beat Johan," Sabathia said. "You just have to try to keep the game close and hope the guys can put together some hits and get some runs."
Sizemore, who turned 25 the day before, provided plenty of help. He bashed a 1-0 fastball from Santana into the football seats above right field for a two-run shot in the third inning, then singled in the fifth to follow Franklin Gutierrez's leadoff triple and give the Indians a 3-2 lead.
"When you get a pitch to hit, you want to make sure you put it in play and not foul it off," Sizemore said. "If he's going to give you something to hit you've got to be sure you're ready."
In the seventh after Santana was removed, Sizemore fought off a pitch from Dennys Reyes near his fists and managed to muscle a broken-bat RBI single with one out in the seventh that made it 4-2.
"I was trying to make something special and hopefully have something positive here in the Twin Cities," Santana said. "Unfortunately it didn't happen, but we have to keep on doing what we do."
Santana's usual after-the-All-Star-break dominance hasn't appeared yet this year. He's been good, but he's won just once and Minnesota is a mere 2-3 when he's pitched in the second half.
"I don't worry too much about Johan Santana," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's going to go out and give you a chance to win."
Minimal offensive support hasn't helped. Twins players were upset earlier this week when popular second baseman and leadoff man Luis Castillo was dealt for two minor-leaguers and the team didn't acquire any hitters before Tuesday's trade deadline. Santana criticized the direction and philosophy of the franchise, going so far to say it didn't "make any sense" for him to be in Minnesota.
After the game, he didn't want to look back.
"I think I've made myself very clear when I talk. I'm done with it. We're professionals here. We have things to do. I know exactly what it takes for me, and I'll take it as a professional whether I'll be here or somewhere else," said Santana, whose current contract runs through 2008.
Santana completed six innings and pitched to two batters in the seventh. Kenny Lofton reached when Castillo's replacement, Casilla, dropped his soft fly for an error. Gutierrez got on with a single. Later, Casey Blake's grounder with Pat Neshek pitching allowed the fifth run to score, because Casilla's relay throw on a desperate attempt to turn two skipped past first base.
Two of those were unearned for Santana, who allowed six hits and two walks while striking out eight and throwing 113 pitches.
- Cleveland's Jhonny Peralta struck out three times against Santana, dropping to 3-for-28 with an incredible 22 strikeouts in his career against the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner.
- The Indians were planning to call up 22-year-old LHP Aaron Laffey to start on Saturday.
- Minnesota's Nick Punto left four runners on base and went hitless in three at-bats, extending his slump to 0-for-16.