As much as the bugs in Cleveland bothered the Yankees, it might not compare to how badly they’ll be pestered by the New York media and fans if Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the lineup don’t get going.
If the Indians can extend Rodriguez’s playoff drought and keep shutting down the majors’ top offense on Sunday, they could hand the once-favored Yankees a third straight first-round exit and first playoff sweep in the Joe Torre area.
Cleveland goes to Yankee Stadium one win away from its first trip to the AL championship series since a six-game loss to New York in 1998.
“I don’t feel safe at all, though,” Indians first baseman Ryan Garko said. “I mean, it’s the Yankees.”
With the chance this could be his final game as New York manager, Torre sends Roger Clemens to the mound with the Yankees trailing 0-2 in this division series after a bizarre 2-1, 11-inning loss on Friday.
Leading 1-0 in the eighth inning, the Yankees were suddenly bombarded by millions of swarming bugs and many of them feasted on reliever Joba Chamberlain. Being covered by insects rattled the rookie right-hander, who had given up one earned run in 24 innings all season, and his second wild pitch of the inning allowed Grady Sizemore to score the tying run.
“It’s like somebody let them go,” shortstop Derek Jeter said. “Just when you think you’ve seen it all - that’s home-field advantage.”
The Yankees hope theirs helps get them back in this series. However, it’s possible the New York fans will be less than supportive of Rodriguez if he fails to contribute.
The likely AL MVP has gone 18 consecutive playoff at-bats without a hit, including six in this series, and is 4-for-47 (.085) with no RBIs and 15 strikeouts in his last 14 postseason games. He had three strikeouts in Game 2, including one with a runner on second to end the top of the ninth.
“A big win right now would take a lot of pressure off all of us,” Rodriguez said. “Again, I know what I’m doing, I’ve just got to fix it.”
After Fausto Carmona allowed one run and three hits in nine innings Friday, Cleveland’s staff has limited the Yankees to four runs and a .121 batting average (8-for-66) with one extra-base hit.
New York’s 968 runs during the regular season were 76 more than any other team. Its .290 batting average, .366 on-base percentage and .463 slugging mark also led the majors.
“We’re a good enough offense, scoring over 900 runs. We know what we have to do to score,” Rodriguez said. “If we’re on our game, it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound.”
If the Bronx crowd jeers Rodriguez and New York loses, that could spell the end of his days in a Yankees uniform. He could opt out of the final three years of his record $252 million, 10-year contract after the season.
Torre also may be gone because his contract is about to expire, and he could decide to leave or the Yankees might choose not to bring him back.
This is their first 0-2 deficit since the 2001 World Series against Arizona, and a loss Sunday would mark the first time the Yankees have been swept in 26 playoff series under Torre. The last time it happened came in the 1980 ALCS against Kansas City.
“When it’s all over with, you see where you are and what you’ve accomplished and what you didn’t accomplish, and what you’re sorry about and what you’re happy about,” Torre said. “And then you evaluate.”
The Yankees also are trying to avoid the longest postseason losing streak in franchise history - six games. This five-game playoff skid, during which they’re batting .166 with a 6.39 ERA, is the team’s first since 1976-77.
New York turns to Clemens (6-6, 4.18 ERA) to help end that skid even though he hasn’t pitched since Sept. 16 because of an injured hamstring.
“I’ve got a lot of will and desire; doesn’t matter my age,” the 45-year-old Clemens said. “If my body feels good or bad, I don’t worry about it.”
Clemens allowed one unearned run and two hits over six innings in a 4-3 win at Boston in his most recent outing, but had an up-and-down year for the Yankees. He allowed four runs or more in seven of his 17 starts.
He’s 12-8 with a 3.66 ERA in 34 career postseason games. This is his first playoff appearance since a hamstring injury forced him out after two innings in Game 1 of the 2005 World Series while with Houston.
The right-hander is 7-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 17 postseason starts for New York - the most recent came in a 12-inning loss to Florida in the 2003 World Series. He is unbeaten in his last nine playoff outings as a Yankee.
Clemens has not faced the Indians since 2003. He’s 27-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 49 career starts against them.
The only Indians regular with at least 10 at-bats against Clemens is Kenny Lofton, possibly the best player in this series but a career .226 hitter (14-for-62) with 19 strikeouts against the Rocket. That number might not mean much, however, considering Lofton was 4-for-29 (.138) against Andy Pettitte but had two singles and a walk against him Friday.
Lofton is 5-for-7 with two walks, four RBIs and two runs in this series. He’s one of five Indians with at least three hits.
“You know, A-Rod’s not the only one, you can’t put it on A-Rod,” Torre said.
The good news for the struggling Yankee hitters is many of them have done well against Jake Westbrook (6-9, 4.32), who starts for Cleveland in Game 3. Rodriguez has hit .375 (9-for-24) with a home run against him, Posada is 5-for-13 (.385) with two homers and Matsui is 5-for-11 (.455).
Westbrook was shaky through much of the first four months of the season - he spent nearly half that time sidelined by an abdominal strain - but he’s 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in his last 13 starts.
However, he’s lost both of his starts this year against New York, allowing 12 runs and 17 hits in 7 2-3 innings. Westbrook is 2-4 with a 5.29 ERA in 10 career games, including seven starts, against the Yankees.
“Just because they struggled in the first two ballgames doesn’t mean that they aren’t a good-hitting team,” said Westbrook, who will make his first postseason appearance.
One Cleveland player who has carried his solid regular-season finish into the playoffs is Travis Hafner, who delivered the RBI single in the 11th that won Friday’s game. He hit .373 with three homers and 13 RBIs in his final 17 games after a mostly disappointing season, and is 3-for-10 with a homer and two RBIs in this series.
“It was great to come through there,” Hafner told the Indians’ official Web site. “But the most important thing is just winning games. We’re a team, and every night we want to go out and win.
“This city’s been hungry for a winner for a long time.”