Sunday, April 19, 2009
Most of the time splitting a four game series in New York with the Yankees is cause for celebration for the Cleveland Indians. While the Tribe has many things to be encouraged about after the inaugural series in New Yankee Stadium the thought that they had the chance to christen the new venue by sweeping the Yankees out of their new home has to eat them alive.
The first game of the series featured the last two AL Cy Young award winners in Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia. Unlike some Cleveland fans I wish CC Sabathia no ill will. He resigned here when he was younger and never had any qualms about saying he was going to test the market. That being said, I hope he pitches like crap every time he faces the Tribe.
Both aces labored in and out of trouble all game with Lee somehow scattering seven hits and three walks over six innings while Sabathia surrendered five hits and five walks in only five and third.
After Lee left the game after the sixth with the score tied at one the Indians erupted for nine runs in the top of the seventh off the Yankee bullpen. This included a grand slam by Grady Sizemore and a solo shot my Victor Martinez. The Indians finished off the game with a final score of 10-2.
The struggling Rafael Perez pitched two rough innings, giving up one run while Eric Wedge trotted out Rafael Betancourt to pitch the meaningless ninth. We’ll come back to this point later in Bullpen Management 101.
Game two began what looks to be the rechristening of Yankee Stadium as Coors Field Northeast. The Yankees hit five solos homers en route to a 6-5 victory over the Indians. Anthony Reyes pitched decently but did not make it beyond five innings. Home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi did not help either he or Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain with one of the most inconsistent strike zones I have seen n quite some time.
The Yankees held a 3-2 lead going into the fifth inning but the Tribe managed to plate three in the top of the fifth to take a 5-3 lead. Here is where the Bullpen Management 101 would have been beneficial to Eric Wedge.
Wedge pitched Perez and Betancourt in the 10-2 blow out the day before, therefore neither was available to pitch in the second game. Perez has been horrid so pitching him two innings in a meaningless game made sense. Betancourt has been up and down and is coming off a bad 2008 but why pitch one of your bullpen stalwarts and leave yourself shorthanded for the next game.
Well that is what Wedge did and long man Zack Jackson cam on to pitch the sixth. He lasted 2/3 of an inning (four batters) giving up two hits including a homerun to Robinson Cano to make it 5-4 Indians. Then Joe Smith came on for one batter to end the sixth.
Instead of rolling with Smith in the seventh Wedge went with veteran Vinnie Chulk, who is the last man in the bullpen. Let me repeat. Vinnie Chulk is the last man in the bullpen. Why is he pitching the seventh inning of a 5-4 game? Because Wedge pitched Betancourt the day before instead of Chulk.
Yes, hindsight is 20/20 but Wedge left himself short in the pen on a day he knew he had a starter in Reyes who struggles to get past five or six innings routinely. Chulk promptly gave up a couple of walks and made an error himself to turn a 5-4 lead into a 5-5 tie after seven. Would have Betancourt done better than Chulk? Who knows but the ODDS were that Betancourt would done better than Chulk.
So with the game tied in the bottom of the eight Jensen Lewis came on struck out two and surrendered a pop up to Derek Jeter. Unfortunately, the New Yankee Stadium jet stream turned this routine pop up into the worlds weakest homerun and a 5-5 tie into a 6-5 Yankee lead.
Phil Cuzzi then reared his ugly head again with another inconsistent inning behind the plate as he rang up Mark DeRosa in the bottom of the ninth with two men on and Mariano Rivera on the hill. Not the reason the Indians lost but the poor game called by Cuzzi was extremely noticeable.
If the Tribe was upset with their pissing away a game they came out like gang busters on Saturday on National TV. They drubbed the Bronx Bombers 22-4 behind a 14 run second inning. The Indians belted 25 hits, including six homers, tied a club record with 50 total bases, and set a club record with 52 at-bats in the game.
Asdrubal Cabrera hit a grand slam to highlight the 14 run second and Mark DeRosa continued his hot streak with six RBIs. DeRosa, Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner also went yard for the Erie Warriors. Fausto Carmona gave up four runs in six innings but looked more consistent than his previous two starts.
Up two games to one, the Indians had a chance to take the first ever series at New Yankee Stadium but the Tribe bullpen would not let that happen. Carl Pavano ignored the Yankee venom and turned in a stellar six inning, four hit, one run performance and left the game with a 3-1 lead.
The Indians failed to capitalize on a bases loaded situated in top of the seventh and Wedge called for the scuffling Perez to start the bottom of the seventh. Two hits and one run later it was 3-2 lead for the Tribe. Jensen Lewis relieved and after getting one out dug in to face pinch hitter Jorge Posada.
Posada lifted a fly ball to deep right field that Trevor Crowe had a bead on. He got back to the wall and was met by the outstanding arms of two Yankee fans in the front row. Cuzzi, umpiring second base this time, signaled home run as Wedge came out to argue.
The play went to MLB review and the umpiring crew left the field while replays appeared to show the fans reaching over the wall and making contact with Crowe’s glove in the field of play.
This is the key issue of the play. Whether fan interference occurs is decided by whether (1) the player is reaching into the stands or (2) the fans are reaching into the field. In situation (1) the ball is fair game and a home run. In situation (2) the ball is in the field of play and the batter should be out.
In my humble opinion, it definitely appeared to be situation (2) but the umpires thought otherwise and the play stood, 4-3 Yankees. Once again not something that caused the Indians to lose the game but it definitely didn’t help things. Rafael Betancourt then squashed all hopes of an Indians comeback by relieving Betancourt and allowing three more runs to make it 7-4 Yankees. Ball game.
So while the Tribe did put two whoopings the Yankees and somewhat ruin their opening series the fact that potentially let a sweep of the Bronx Bombers slip away is disconcerting. The offense has begun to wake and the starters have shown signs of life but the bullpen, that was supposedly improved, can’t get the game to lock down closer Kerry Wood to save their life.
The Indians sit at 4-9, 3.5 games behind the Royals, Tigers and White Sox who are at 7-5. The Twins sit a game behind the AL Central leading tri-fecta with a 7-7 record. Even though they could, and I argue should, be 7-6 or 6-7 they have a chance to make up ground this coming week. Their next six games are against the Royals and Twins, all at home.