CLEVELAND – Even before Gen. Moses Cleaveland arrived here in 1796 and first surveyed what would become a delirious baseball town on the shores of Lake Erie, residents occasionally had to deal with swarms of gnat-like insects called midges, which descend in vicious waves from Canada and overwhelm just about any warm body.
Friday, in an eighth inning of a game where the Cleveland Indians couldn't swat a fly if it meant pushing a run across the plate, the midges arrived unannounced and landed, seemingly all at once, on Joba Chamberlain's neck.
Or they danced in front of the normally unflappable New York Yankees reliever's face. Or they buzzed his ears, got in his eyes, nose, mouth and psyche.
"It was like blankets of stuff out there. They came in sheets," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He was having trouble seeing out there."
Mostly, he was having trouble pitching. Leading 1-0 in the eighth inning, the Yankees were about to steal Game 2 of the American League division series, riding the great pitching of Andy Pettitte to offset their woeful offense.
And then some kind of biblical locust landing occurred.
Suddenly, Chamberlain, swarmed by bugs, walked Grady Sizemore. Then he threw a wild pitch. Then, with Sizemore on third, he threw another wild pitch, allowing the Indians to tie the game.
Three innings later, with the bugs mostly gone due to a slight breeze, the Indians won it 2-1 on a Travis Hafner single. Cleveland leads the ALDS 2-0 as the best-of-five series moves to the Bronx on Sunday.
"I've never seen anything like that before," Torre said. "Especially all of a sudden coming on the scene like that."
It's common enough here that games have been delayed due to the bugs. However, the idea of a delay apparently didn't dawn on anyone. Torre said he didn't ask. The umps never gathered to discuss it. The Indians certainly weren't going to complain as Chamberlain lost his concentration.
"We've had that happen a few times," said Indians manager Eric Wedge, who like any Clevelander is familiar with the occasional midge mauling. "Every now and again, at certain points they show up. Whatever the reason, they did tonight."
Perhaps, after all these years and all these Cleveland losses, God decided to become an Indians fan. He certainly couldn't have picked a better time or the better Old Testament vengeance for fouling up the Yankees.
Drought, mildew and famine would have lacked the immediate impact. Pestilence would have been too mean; fire mixed with blood too messy; grasshoppers, probably too obvious.
The midges were just enough.
"It was at a bad time," Torre said.
Of course, neither divine intervention nor the fly patterns of gnat-like insects are responsible for the pathetic Yankees offense.
The reason New York is on the brink of another October disappointment (they've won just three of their last 15 playoff games) is the decided lack of offense from its highly paid lineup.
Among the regulars, only Bobby Abreu is hitting above .167 for the series. Four Yankees, including 4-5-6 hitters Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, are hitless. Derek Jeter (.125) and Johnny Damon (.111) are only slightly better.
A lineup that was supposed to be murderous can't even be called Misdemeanor's Row.
The focus, of course, will be on Rodriguez, the highly paid lighting rod who has thus far capped another MVP-caliber season with a pathetic playoff performance. And to think he is expected to opt out of his current mega-contract to seek more money.
"A-Rod, he's not the only one," Torre said. "We just really didn't get anything going."
The Yankees were hoping to ride Pettitte, the prodigal son who returned from the Houston Astros and delivered some old playoff magic. He shut out the Indians into the seventh and left with one out and a 1-0 lead.
Chamberlain, the 22-year-old legend-in-the-making, took the mound and immediately ended an Indians rally. New York was six outs – three from Chamberlain, three from closer Mariano Rivera – from squaring the series.
Then the midges descended. They swarmed the infield, where the wet dirt seemed to attract them. They were of little nuisance for the outfielders, dugout-dwellers and the 44,732 fans.
Chamberlain and others were sprayed down with insect repellent, but it did nothing against the midges. According to a state of Ohio website, the insects can be so aggressive that "piles of eight to twelve inches of dead midges may accumulate in unwanted places."
For the Yankees, that unwanted place was the middle of the ALDS.