Yankees 8, Indians 4 ... you didn't think it was all going to be a bed of roses, did you?
1. Sunday's game underscored A) how difficult it is to close the Yankees out in Yankee Stadium and B) the level of dropoff there is going from C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona to the rest of the rotation.
The margin for error Jake Westbrook has to work with is a pinhole compared to the Tribe's dual aces. Westbrook compares to Charles Nagy, who had to live at knees in the strike zone, work the corners and rely on his defense to get outs. Leave the ball up in the zone -- as Westbrook did for one critical four-batter sequence -- and those would-be groundball double plays start getting sprayed all over the yard and outfield seats.
Not that it's entirely Westbrook's fault. Pitching in Yankee Stadium after C.C. and Fausto worked at home is akin to drawing the short straw. The Yankee Mystique is alive and well in the South Bronx. The Yankees find ways to get clutch hits, huge homers and crunch-time pitching in their own ballpark, three factors that were obviously missing for them in the first two games of this series.
2. Eric Wedge is probably going to take a lot of flack for starting Trot Nixon in right field, what with the Tony Fernandez-ing of the three-run double that put the game out of reach and all. But it makes more sense than you might realize. Nixon has had success against Roger Clemens in the past, and in the postseason crucible of Yankee Stadium, why not start a guy who has had more than his share of postseason at-bats versus New York?
It worked on the offensive end as Nixon homered and doubled. But he's very obviously reached the DH-or-bench part of his career.
3. The Indians have a lot of people rooting against them, and not all of them are LeBron James. Broadcast network TBS isn't even pretending to be unbiased. They want the Yankees to storm back and win this series. If the Yankees lose, the majority of the New York market will greet a Cleveland-Boston ALCS with their thumbs, as they use their remotes to switch off their TVs.
The TBS broadcast crew of Chip Caray, Tony Gywnn and Bob Brenly are going to great lengths to make sure Yankee fans see very little difference between a TBS broadcast and a YES Network broadcast. All it took was a single by Alex Rodriguez for Caray to declare "And here come the Yankees!" When A-Rod was erased on a double-play grounder immediately after, the frustration in the TBS booth was palpable.
When Johnny Damon homered to give the Yankees the lead, Craig Sager openly mused if that would be the moment that turned the series around, comparing it to Derek Jeter's famous ball-flip in the 2001 playoffs, igniting a rally from a 2-0 deficit against Oakland.
With the NLCS featuring the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, TBS, Fox, and above all, Major League Baseball itself, knows that the World Series is almost certainly going to be a ratings anticlimax. The "real" World Series would be a Yankees-Red Sox ALCS for the third time in five years. So, let's be real, no one controlling this series wants the Indians to win.
4. Having said that, if you're looking for a metaphorical digit you can thrust toward the Yankee love-fest on TBS, remember this: At the outset of the series, I said the Indians needed to be up 2-1 after three games in order to have a chance to win. That is exactly where they are.
It doesn't look as good because the most recent game was a come-from-behind Yankee win, and the Indians were the only team with a 2-0 lead that couldn't finish off the sweep. But the Indians still have the trump card of C.C. Sabathia, at home, in Game 5 on normal rest -- unless Wedge caves to pressure and starts C.C. on short rest Monday night, which seems a bit too risky for the normally-conservative Wedge.
5. I'd go so far as to say that Wedge is playing for Game 5. If Paul Byrd can somehow pitch the Indians to a series-clinching win Monday night, great. But Wedge knows the best shot is Wednesday night at Jacobs Field with his No. 1 starter on the mound and the crowd behind him.
It might not be a terribly popular decision with fans to start Byrd, who has a tendency to get hammered by the Yankees. But we might reap the benefits of C.C. on full rest Wednesday.