Indians annihilate Yankees behind offensive barrage



By Tom Withers

CLEVELAND – Rocked right off the bat, the Cleveland Indians quickly found their October swing.

C.C. Sabathia settled down after giving up a debated homer on his fifth pitch and the Indians returned to the postseason after a six-year disappearance by thumping the New York Yankees 12-3 in their AL playoff opener.

Alex Rodriguez, you ask? Well, A-Rod never got a chance to repair his tarnished postseason image. Sabathia and three Cleveland relievers simply took the All-Star third baseman’s powerful bat out of his hands.

The Indians’ inexperience at this time of year was never a factor.

Cleveland’s kids were all right.

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Playoff newcomer Victor Martinez hit a two-run homer, rookie Asdrubal Cabrera had a solo shot off Chien-Ming Wang and Travis Hafner and Ryan Garko homered as the Indians went toe-to-toe with the Bronx Bombers and knocked them flat.

Kenny Lofton, one of the few Cleveland players who knows his way around baseball’s consummate month, had four RBIs and Casey Blake added two as the Indians, energized by a towel-waving crowd that became accustomed to playoff baseball in the 1990s, roared with every run, every hit and every Yankee out.

A few of them even turned on Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, a devoted New York fan who boldly came to Jacobs Field wearing a Yankees cap. Early on, fans sitting near James behind home plate chanted “Take off the cap,” in his direction, and by the sixth inning, he had done just that.

When Hafner’s homer off Ross Ohlendorf gave the Indians a 10-3 lead, James turned to his entourage and ordered an exit.

The Yankees, 6-0 against the Indians during the regular season, went nearly as fast. Down 4-3 in the fifth, they only got a meaningless two-out single in the ninth after Cleveland broke away.

On Friday, the Yankees will turn to Andy Pettitte. Fausto Carmona, Cleveland’s other 19-game winner, will oppose him.

Indians manager Eric Wedge, another playoff first-timer, was prepared to ride Sabathia as long as needed. If that meant 120 or 130 pitches, Wedge was willing to let his left-hander push his limit.

Wedge could have never imagined that would come after five innings.

Not only did Sabathia, who came in 1-7 with a 7.13 ERA in his career against New York, have to deal with New York’s awesome lineup, but plate umpire Bruce Froemming’s strike zone was paper thin for the left-hander, who battled through 113 pitches, allowing three runs and four hits in five innings.

He walked six (his total for all September) allowed two homers – both to lefties – and had one of his worst outings all season.

The Yankees were facing Sabathia for the first time in three years, and unless they get their offense untracked in the next few days, it may be many more months before they see him again.

Johnny Damon homered leading off the first and Robinson Cano homered in the fourth, but New York did little else.

New York has lost four straight playoff games, a streak rarely seen for the game’s most decorated franchise which hasn’t added to its collection of 26 World Series titles since 2000.

Rodriguez’s hopes of following up a certain MVP season with a glittering postseason is on hold. He went 0-for-2 and walked twice, once intentionally in the fifth when Sabathia wriggled out of a serious jam.

Clinging to a 4-3 lead with runners at second and third and first base open, Sabathia put on Rodriguez to face Jorge Posada.

Posada got ahead 3-0 in the count, then swung away and fouled off a pitch. Sabathia fought back for a strikeout.

Then Sabathia got behind 2-0 to Hideki Matsui before getting the Yankees’ DH to pop to shortstop, ending New York’s best – and last chance – to rally.

With Cabrera on with a leadoff walk, Martinez pounded his homer into the seats right-center to make it 6-3. One out later, Jhonny Peralta doubled and Lofton’s RBI single put Cleveland up by four and chased Wang, a 19-game winner during the regular season who matched a career-high by giving up eight runs.

Ohlendorf came on and walked Franklin Gutierrez before Blake dropped a two-run double into the right-field corner, sending the crowd of 44,608 into a frenzy.

Cleveland fans, who sat through a blinding snowstorm on opening day in April, came to Jacobs Field dressed in T-shirts and shorts as unseasonably warm temperatures made it feel more like August than October.

An Indians summer indeed.

Rallying to win is nothing new to these Indians, who recorded 44 come-from-behind wins this season – 26 in their final at-bat.