NEW YORK (AP)—Joe Torre knew it. Johnny Damon knew it. And the fans at Yankee Stadium certainly knew it, too.
With one more loss, Torre’s run as manager might end after 12 championship-filled years.
When Roger Clemens was chased in the third inning and the Yankees fell behind by three runs, it appeared the end of an era was drawing near. Then, the Yankees awoke to save their season and perhaps Torre’s job.
Damon lofted a go-ahead, three-run homer in the fifth inning, rookies Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain rescued the Rocket and the Yankees rallied past Cleveland 8-4 Sunday night, closing within 2-1 in their first-round AL playoff series.
“We all love Joe Torre, and we would love for him to win another championship,” Damon said. “I think Joe Torre is a guy who commands a lot of respect. He’s meant so much to the Yankee organization. And, you know, we get to play for him at least another day and, hopefully, longer.”
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner blustered Saturday that Torre’s hot seat was close to a boiling point. “I don’t think we’d take him back if we don’t win this series,” he told The Record of New Jersey.
Torre responded by was his usual stoic self before the game, and one sign read: “DO IT FOR JOE.”
Damon had three hits and drove in four runs, starting the comeback with an RBI single in the third off former-Yankee Jake Westbrook. New York, which hadn’t gotten back-to-back hits in the series, then strung together three opposite-field hits to left from Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera for a run in the fifth.
Damon worked the count to 2-0 against Westbrook and hit a sinker with no sink on a high arc to right. As it cleared the wall to put the Yankees ahead 5-3, Cano raised both hands in the air down the third-base line and jumped twice. Damon went into a trot, and the crowd of 56,358 leapt with him.
“It’s great seeing the crowd go crazy,” Damon said.
In a game that mirrored the Yankees’ rebound from a 21-29 start, Cano added a bases-loaded RBI single in the sixth off Aaron Fultz. When a charging Nixon overran the ball in right field for an error, two more runs scored.
This time, the Yankees and Chamberlain weren’t bugged—on Friday, he allowed the tying run to score when a swarm of flying insects distracted him in Cleveland.
“I was still taking them off today,” Chamberlain said. “It was nice to be able to come in and see things.”
In an unprecedented postseason of sweeps, all other division series ended in three-game wipeouts. But the Indians, at least for a night, were denied their first trip to the AL championship series since 1998.
“I feel like we made a statement in Game 1, and I feel like they made a statement here tonight, especially being down 3-0,” said Byrd, 1-4 with a 4.82 ERA in his career against New York.
Only four teams have overcome 2-0 deficits in the first round since the playoffs expanded in 1995. Before the game, Torre told his team to think about winning one game, not three.
“Tonight was unbelievable, just the crowd behind me,” said the 21-year-old Hughes, one of the Yankees’ midseason callups. It was just the third relief appearance of his career and second in the series.
“He was huge for them,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “The kid showed a lot of poise.”
With former New York City mayor and current presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani leading the cheering from his front-row seat, Alex Rodriguez stopped his postseason hitless streak at 18 at-bats with a second-inning single and also beat out an infield single. But he remained in a 6-for-54 (.111) playoff funk with no RBIs dating to his Game 4 home run against Boston three years ago.
New York, which led the major leagues in scoring with its highest total since 1937, pushed across just four runs—three on solo homers—in the first two games and batted .121.
While the Yankees got the leadoff man on in each of the first three innings, Derek Jeter bounced into double plays in the first and the third, and Jorge Posada hit into one in the second. Jeter also made a bad throw that led to the Indians’ first run.
The turnaround was sudden.
“They came out with a different approach in the fifth inning and I didn’t mix it up like I was supposed to,” Westbrook said.
In his 24th and maybe final season, the 45-year-old Clemens was limited by an injured hamstring and a balky elbow to one start in the past month. He fell behind nine of 13 batters, reinjuring the hamstring when Kenny Lofton made a bunt attempt in the second. By the time Torre went to the mound to remove him with no outs in the third, Cleveland had taken a 2-0 lead on Garko’s RBI single in the first and Nixon’s home run in the second, which appeared to glance off the top of the right-field wall.
Rodriguez came over to the mound and tapped the misfiring Rocket on his chest with his glove. Clemens, glove dangling from right hand, slowly walked to the dugout, down the steps and up the corridor to the clubhouse. It took him 59 pitches to get just seven outs.
“It got to a point where I can’t put these guys in a hole,” Clemens said. “I’ve been trying everything I possibly could to get it right.”
Hughes entered in just the third relief appearance of his pro career, his second this week. He gave up an opposite-field RBI to right by Peralta, striking out four and allowing two hits in 3 2-3 innings. That and Damon’s homer were the difference.
“I know the Red Sox are off waiting for the next team,” Damon said. “And, hopefully, that team is us.”
Jeter was 0-for-4 and is 1-for-12 (.083) in the series. … Posada was 1-for-3 with a walk and is 1-for-10. … Westbrook allowed six runs and nine hits in five-plus innings. … Torre might consider replacing Clemens—who then would be off the roster until the World Series.