I don’t know what it is. The mystique of the pinstripes. The overwhelming feeling of playing in the Bronx. The 26 World Series flags that fly. Whatever the case may be, the Indians have always seemed to struggle against the New York Yankees. Last night was no different. I think Lou Brown put it best in Major League after a loss to Clew Haywood and his crew: ” One day we will figure out how to beat those guys.”
The Indians are reeling. They entered this game losers of 10 of their last 14, their bullpen has become a bit of a mess, everyone seems to be slumping at the plate at the same time, and now they lose All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to a strained quad muscle. They need a victory some way, some how.
So back to the Bronx they went for game two of this brutal nine-game to New York, Detroit, and Texas looking for an edge of some sort. David Phelps took the ball for the Yanks and the last time we saw him, he was locked in a pitcher’s duel with Justin Masterson where he would end up a hard-luck 1-0 loser. On that day, only a first inning Jason Kipnis beat him. After that he pitched six and a third more scoreless innings, striking out seven. His last start, he couldn’t make it out of the first against the Mets. So naturally Phelps would get his groove back and dominate.
If not for a Jayson Nix bobble combined with the speed of Drew Stubbs in the third, Phelps would have been pitching a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Once again, the Indians offense could not touch him. They were completely kept off balance and could never get anything going, though he did walk four. Phelps was also helped by the odd strike zone being used by “hey look at me” home plate umpire Tony Randazzo.
“We didn’t have anything to show for it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We made him work and we took our walks, but we couldn’t push any runs across. It’s rare to see you get one hit, and you look up and see a bunch of pitches like that. He did a very good job of not giving in.”
Scott Kazmir continued his run of starts where he pitched well, yet found trouble in only one inning. This time, that did him in.
In the bottom of the third, the bottom of the Yankees order continued to do damage as they did a night before. Lyle Overbay doubled and Chris Stewart singled, but Stewart was tagged out as he rounded first base too far. It ended up costing the Yankees a run. Ichiro Suzuki singled in Overbay to put New York on the board. Nix then added a single of his own, bringing Mark Teixeira to the plate. The switch-hitting All-Star has owned Kazmir during his career. He left a pitch right in Teixeira’s wheel house and he crushed it to left for a back-breaking three-run homer. Scott recovered to strike out the Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells, but the Indians were in a 4-0 hole in the blink of an eye.
“Yeah, I felt good tonight, and maybe I was overthrowing a little,” he said. “I wasn’t able to get ahead of hitters.”
Kazmir would go six innings, giving up those four runs on seven hits, with seven strikeouts and two walks. Five of those seven hits came in the third.
Into the seventh, the Tribe still had just one hit and trailed 4-0, but with Phelps over 100 pitches, Yankees manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen with everyone’s favorite midge-eater Joba Chamberlain. He opened the frame by walking Carlos Santana. But after retiring the next two batters, Mike Aviles, filling in for the injured Cabrera, singled up the middle. It was the Tribe first “real” hit of the game. Up stepped Drew Stubbs, who has been mired in a 2-22 slump heading into last night. Stubbs took a Chamberlain pitch the other way to the short porch in right and it barely cleared the wall for a three-run homer. All of a sudden, a dead Indians team was revived and trailed by just one after the three-run homer.
It looked as though Stubbs’s heroics would be all for naught as reliever Bryan Shaw’s walks and a brutal error by third baseman Mark Reynolds caused a bases loaded, one out situation for Cano. Out of the dugout emerged Francona and he called for lefty Nick Hagadone. Two things could happen here – Hags could wiggle his way out of the jam and emerge with confidence or Cano could touch him up and his struggles would continue. With the way Rich Hill has pitched of late, Hagadone – who hasn’t exactly been the second coming of Paul Assenmacher himself – certainly couldn’t do any worse.
It was a huge spot for Hagadone who was lit up against Tampa Bay over the weekend. He got ahead of Cano and would induce a 4-6-3 inning ending double play. It was a gutsy move by Tito, considering how it blew up in his face last week when he allowed Hagadone to face Joey Votto with first base open in the eighth in Cincinnati.
“That was a big part of the game,” Francona said. “[Hagadone] rose to the occasion.”
You could feel a momentum shift, especially after reliever David Robertson walked Jason Kipnis ans Michael Brantley to start the eighth. Nick Swisher had a shot to make his old team pay and man would it have been a good time to do so. Swish laced a line drive, but it was right at Nix who flipped to Reid Brignac at short for a double play. Kipnis was leaning off the bag when the ball was hit and had no shot to get back. It was just a case of Swisher hitting the ball hard at the wrong person at the wrong time.
“I put a good swing on it but hit it right at the guy,” Swisher said. “Sometimes you run into bad luck.”
“Swish leaned all over that ball,” Francona said. “That’s as good a swing as you’re going to see. He just hit it right at somebody. But I’ll take that swing every day.
That was their best shot as Robertson got Santana on a ground out to end the inning and the Tribe went in order against Mariano Rivera in the ninth, but the inning wasn’t without intrigue. With two outs, Rivera’s first pitch to Aviles was ruled a check-swing strike by Randazzo, who claimed the ball tipped off of Aviles’s bat. Except it didn’t. And it wasn’t even close. Both Aviles and Francona argued to no avail. After Aviles flew out to end the game, both he and his manager let Randazzo hear their displeasure some more. Randazzo was horrible all game.
Instead of being a professional and avoiding conflict with the game being over, Randazzo went right back at Aviles and Francona, which you just should not do. Despite the fact that the Tribe had already lost the game, he tossed Aviles.
“It’s a situation where you’re down one, and you have maybe the best closer in history out there, and he doesn’t need any help. I thought Randazzo should have kept walking [away from Aviles] or apologized to Mike.”
It was bush league from another umpire who is in the Angel Hernandez/C.B. Bucknor category.
In the meantime, the Indians lost for the 11th time in 15 games and are really struggling. They hope to avoid a sweep this afternoon at 1:05 with Corey Kluber (3-3, 4.36 ERA) taking the mound against former Indians ace CC Sabathia (5-4, 3.71 ERA).
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)