Sunday, October 7, 2007

Is it Panic Time Yet?

Oh lord. I know its only one game, only one loss in New York, and the Indians still lead the series 2-1, but all Clevelanders, including yours truly, have this sinking feeling. You know that feeling. Its the same one we get anytime one of our teams begins what feels like a choke for the ages. I just need to keep telling myself this is one game, the Indians are still in control, the Yankees were bound to break out of their slump, and one more win gets the the Tribe to the ALDS.

Things started off well. The Tribe took a 1-0 first inning lead on a two out Ryan Garko singled. Jake Westbrook got a double play ball out of Derek Jeter and we moved to the second. Faster than I could say "what the heck is Trot Nixon doing in the lineup," he deposited a Clemens fastball into the right field seats for a 2-0 lead. Clemens was battered and bruised. He seemed to be on the ropes. In the third, he walked Travis Hafner, then struck out Victor Martinez. That was it for the 45 year old. He his left hamstring and his night was over. That was the worst thing that could have happened to the Indians. In came rookie Phil Hughes. Other than Jhonny Peralta's RBI double to give the Tribe a 5-0 lead, Hughes was brilliant in his 3 2/3 innings.

So the Tribe led 3-0, but the Yankees were itching to get a big inning going. In the third, they got a run thanks to a Johnny Damon RBI single. It was also the first inning the Yankees had put together back to back hits all series. Then came the fifth where it all came apart for Westbrook. With one out, Hideki Matsui singled, Robinson Cano doubled, Melky Cabrera singled home Matsui, and Damon hit a three run bomb to right. Just like that, it was 5-3 Yankees.

The Indians were all but sunk at that point, but a two run deficit didn't seem insurmountable. But in the sixth, Alex Rodriguez chased Westbrook with a leadoff single and in came lefty Aaron Fultz. Jorge Posada greeted him with a single, his first hit of the series. After a Doug Mintkiewicz's sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Matsui, Cano stepped to the plate. He lined a Fultz offering into right field where Trot Nixon was patrolling. As the ball reached him, he put his glove down and the ball rolled right past him, allowing all three runs to score. It was now 8-3 and the game was over.

No need to give any more play by play. The better team won tonight. So it's on to Game Four tomorrow night where Paul Byrd will take the hill for the Indians. As of this post, the Yankees hadn't named a starting pitcher, but it could be Chien-Ming Wang on three says rest. If Joe Torre decides to go another route, it will be veteran Mike Mussina.


1. Let's get right to it. I was shocked to see Nixon in right field tonight, but given his career success against Roger Clemens, it was the right move. His Pizza in the third was his first since June and only his fourth of the year. He also had an RBI double in the eight off of Joba Chamberlain. That was the good Trot. The error in the sixth inning was egregious. That probably ensured that we won't be seeing Trot in right field the rest of the playoffs.

2. Give the Tribe credit for continuing to battle when the game was clearly over. Chamberlain hadn't allowed a hit with runners in scoring position the entire season, yet the Indians got the Nixon double in the eighth, one of three hits he allowed in the inning. This is also big because Chamberlain threw 38 pitches in his two innings; this from a guy who pitched back to back games only once this season because of "The Joba Rules." Yankee brass did not allow him to do so because he is their #1 pitching prospect. The mini-rally in the eighth also forced Joe Torre to use Mariano Rivera in the ninth. Both won't be nearly as fresh for Game Four tomorrow night.

3. Meanwhile, the Indians didn't use either Rafael Betancourt or Rafael Perez, meaning they can go two innings each tomorrow night if need be. Closer Joe Borowski got his first taste of the postseason tonight pitching a scoreless ninth. It was important for him to get his feet wet as he could be called upon to close out the series tomorrow night. Jenson Lewis was money again, strking out the side in the eighth.

4. I won't bash Casey Blake, because I vowed not to, but he is hitting .083 in the series. Asdrubal Cabrera is struggling as well at .154.

5. Pitching Paul Byrd in Game Four is the right move. He is a 15 game winner, a savvy veteran, and playoff tested. Remember, he has made five postseason starts in his career. I think we will see the good Byrd man as long as he isn't getting squeezed. His margin for error is smaller than any other on the staff. Aaron Laffey should be ready. The Yankee Stadium crowd was electric tonight. I forgot how intimidating the crowd can be. The Bombers seemed to feed off of the crowd and they almost willed them to their rallies. Byrd must stay within himself and be the smart veteran that he is. If he lets the crowd get to him, the Tribe could be in trouble.

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