For 17 innings of this miserable three-game sweep, the Indians appeared to be a fringe major league team that didn't belong on the same field as those vaunted Yankees. Then a switch flipped, and the Tribe seemed to realize that an aging team benefiting from a joke, soulless ballpark is nothing to cause night terrors. Somehow, though, they were swept away anyway.
This game offered the ideal look at the difference between these two teams: The Indians can not afford to give away opportunities or make unforced errors; the Yankees have a wider margin for error.
For this offense that continues to flail, a gift unearned run (cashed in by a Shelley Duncan double) gave the Tribe an early lead. But against Andy Pettitte, that appeared to be all. Keep in mind the rule with Pettitte: The older he gets, the better he was. However, his eight starts of 2012 have been undeniably outstanding, as he's compiled what would be his second-best WHIP, his best K/IP, and an ERA+ of 127. Oh, and he's left-handed, a kryptonite-like effect on the Cleveland lineup.
But a hard groundball from Casey Kotchman not only took Pettitte out of the game, it will take Pettitte out of the rotation for about six weeks as he recovers from a fractured ankle. Here was an opportunity to go after the weak part of the Yankees bullpen, along with long man Freddy Garcia, who has absolutely nothing on his pitches these days.
For a moment it looked doable. Asdrubal Cabrera delivered his patented topspin linedrive special from the right side, scoring a run and tying the game. Jason Kipnis provided a BABIP special on a bloop single that gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead. Then Jose Lopez came up and Jason Kipnis stole second, putting two men in scoring position and Freddy Garcia coming in.
What followed was an eight-pitch at bat. Garcia has had well documented struggles with velocity, and he came in pitching like a scared rabbit. Lopez, strangely, seemed to be sitting fastball on every pitch, even though it was clear Garcia wasn't going there. In the eight pitches, Garcia threw exactly one fastball -- an 88-mph show-me heater that was head-high. The YES Network announcers remarked on how dreadful two of the hanging "sliders" were that tumbled in around 82 mph, but Lopez was off balance, dead-set on dead-red. Eventually he whiffed on another junkball, and the threat was over. The Indians had failed to capitalize on an enormous opportunity.
Ubaldo Jimenez was pretty good, but not quite good enough. Like a golfer who finally starts making putts but then can no longer hit a drive, Jimenez had his best command of the year -- with his potentially deadly offspeed pitches, but not his fastball. After two first-inning walks, he dominated Cano and Teixeira. At various times his offspeed command made Yankee hitters look stupid. This was the Jimenez who can compile some of the highest swing-and-miss counts in the league. In total, he struck out seven in six innings.
But some self-inflicted damage came about -- remember, this team can hardly afford unforced errors -- in the fourth. He got behind Robinson Cano, then grooved one for a hard-hit single. Later, after owning Teixeira once again, Jimenez walked the OBP-challenged Raul Ibanez before falling behind Eric Chavez (still the same Eric Chavez you remember from Oakland, not his son). Chavez then lined an opposite-field double that scored two runs.
In the sixth, an ARod double was followed by a long Cano homer. Not be passe about it, but against the Yankees, this will occasionally happen. It was the fourth-inning trouble that truly haunted Ubaldo on what was otherwise a strong outing.
How agitating was this series? Vinnie Pestano gave up his first run in his last 16 appearances, and it was a BABIP-nightmare string of "hits" in the eighth inning, culminating with Mark Teixeira narrowly beating a Choo throw to the plate.
In the ninth, the Tribe had Chisenhall and Choo reach base via single and walk (respectively, obviously). They were followed by Kotchman, Marson, and Damon, a kind of Mutterers Row. But Marson delivered a single to load the bases, and Michael Brantley strode to the plate with the sacks packed and two down, down two. Brantley has settled back into a groove of just-below mediocrity since ending his long hitting streak; he's OPSing about .500 in the past week, and has walked seven times in nine weeks. But Rafael Soriano couldn't hit the ocean with his slider if he dropped it off a boat, and Brantley walked home a run.
Up came Asdrubal Cabrera, but the Indians best hitter could only send a lazy fly ball to left field, ending a gut-punching sweep. This was a game slathered with reasons that Cleveland should have won, but they failed to cash in numerous chips, while the Yankees made the most of theirs.