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Tribe comes alive

Yanks bruised, battered after two nights at The Jake

Posted: Saturday October 6, 2007 3:05AM; Updated: Saturday October 6, 2007 3:16AM
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Joe Torre and the New York Yankees have lost their last five postseason road games.
Joe Torre and the New York Yankees have lost their last five postseason road games.
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CLEVELAND -- As he stood in front of his locker after Game 2 of the Division Series, Derek Jeter extended his bare arms in front of him and, with eyes the size of ping pong balls, inspected them with the thoroughness of a TSA agent going through a handbag. "No bites," Jeter finally announced, after surviving the Hitchcockian scene at Jacobs Field in which players in the infield were swarmed by bugs that had buzzed in, apparently, from Lake Erie. Added Jeter, "We'll see if they pop up tomorrow morning."

After a four-and-a-half-hour, 11-inning loss to the Indians on Friday night, Jeter and the Yankees limped back to the Bronx not bug-bitten but much worse -- bruised and battered. Down 2-0 now in the American League Division Series, they find themselves one game from their third straight first-round exit and now turn to hobbling 45-year-old, Roger Clemens, in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, facing elimination and an offseason that promises drastic change if they're once again home to spend Columbus Day weekend with the family.

"Nothing's been easy for us all year," said Alex Rodriguez, who after going a combined 0-for-6 with three strikeouts in Games 1 and 2 now faces more pressure than ever to make his mark in the postseason. "In a way, we're used to this type of situation." When told that the Yankees could take solace in the fact that they didn't have to face two Cy Young contenders this weekend at Yankee Stadium, Rodriguez asked, "Who's that we're facing?" The answer: Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd. Rodriguez shrugged. He knew: the Yankees have the pitching edge in Game 3, with Clemens taking the mound, and in a possible Game 4, with Chien-Ming Wang (10-4, 2.75 ERA at home during the regular season) available to start on short rest.

But after two nights at The Jake -- where the towel-waiving, red-shirted faithful witnessed a 13-2 whitewashing followed by a 2-1 white-knuckle pitcher's duel -- it's become clear that the Indians are the team to beat this October. On a sultry Friday evening in Game 2, 19-game winner Fausto Carmona topped C.C. Sabathia's gutsy performance a night earlier with a dazzling nine-inning outing that loudly announced his arrival as one of the top young pitchers in the game. In a full count against Rodriguez with two men out in the top of the ninth, with Bobby Abreu at second base in a 1-1 game, Carmona unleashed a 96 mph sinker against the best player on the planet, who swung and missed at the pitch at his hands.

"He pounded the strike zone," said Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon of Carmona. "He got ahead early on everyone. And his changeup was really good tonight."

Said Indians first baseman Ryan Garko, "The coolest thing about those bugs flying around out there? Fausto never flinched."

A pair of fearless fireballers, Carmona and Sabathia look like the kind of pitchers that are ready to carry their team deep into October. And even bigger revelation of the series, however, has been the Indians bullpen, which has logged six scoreless innings. While New York's Joba Chamberlain made his much anticipated October debut, so too did Cleveland's Rafael Perez, the Indians' own phenom setup man. Perez, 25, pitched two innings in both Games 1 and 2, has yet to allow a baserunner, and has struck out five Yankees. "He's a big weapon, there's no question about it," says Damon.

The postgame scene at Jacobs Field told the whole story. After Game 2 in the Indians clubhouse Party Like a Rockstar blared on speakers as the Red Sox-Angels game flashed on TV sets all around the locker room. In the clubhouse down the ballpark tunnel the TVs were all shut off, the room was as quiet as a church.

"Right now, we're all trying to do a bit too much," Rodriguez said of the Yankees' offensive failures. "We're going home, and we've got to do what we've done all year -- be patient, ake our time and chip away."

Time, though, is quickly running out on A-Rod and the Yankees.