Yanks need answers in a hurry
Now or never as New York heads home in a huge hitting hole
CLEVELAND -- The Yankees got just what they needed on Friday night -- a stellar performance from starter Andy Pettitte, who nursed a one-run lead into the seventh inning. Unfortunately, they generated only three hits -- eight in the two games at Jacobs Field against Indians pitching.And now they are basically up against it, down 0-2 in their best-of-five game American League Division Series, needing a sweep of Cleveland to advance to the AL Championship Series with Game 3 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. And if the offense doesn't get going, they might as well forget it.
Also working against the Bombers is the fact that since the three-tiered playoff system began 12 years ago, 27 teams have fallen behind, 0-2, in a best-of-five Division Series. Only four have come back to win a series, including the Yankees in 2001 against the Athletics.
"It's frustrating," said Alex Rodriguez, all-everything during the regular season and suffering through another oh-for during a postseason series. "Three hits? We're much better than that. We've got to get back home, feed off the energy of the crowd, and play Yankee baseball."The big four in the Yankees lineup -- Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada -- just haven't gotten the job done during the first two games, going a collective 1-for-28 with four walks and no RBIs. The hit was a fourth-inning single by Jeter, who was the last New York hitter in a 2-1, 11-inning loss to knock the ball safely out of the infield. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi, who is 9-for-17 with four homers and six RBIs in six games against Cleveland this season, didn't get a sniff on Friday and was limited to a pinch-hit single in Thursday's 12-3 defeat. Will he get a look in Game 3 or 4 against right-handers Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd? "We're going to look at it," manager Joe Torre said afterward. "I haven't thought about the future right now. [Saturday] we'll work out and we'll try to get our thoughts organized." He best not wait too long. In their last four postseason games, including Games 3 and 4 of their ALDS against Detroit in 2006, the Yankees have scored seven runs on 19 hits. Of course, they've run into a buzzsaw of great starting pitching: Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman last October, plus C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in the past two games against the Indians. Here this week, the Yanks scored four runs -- three of them on solo homers. In the next two games, assuming they can force a Game 4, they'll face Westbrook and Byrd, definitely a different level of talent.
"Hopefully they won't pitch as well," said the usually reliable Jeter, who's 1-for-8 so far with three strikeouts. "Sometimes you have to give pitchers credit. They've been nasty so far in the last two games."A-Rod, who hit .314 this season with 54 homers and 156 RBIs, wasn't buying it. He said the Cleveland pitching was good enough, but the Yankee hitters were also getting themselves out. It's an approach that must change in the next game or else it's going to be another long season of soul-searching. As always, Rodriguez had his postseason chances and once again he came up short as a Yankee, his current string of futility at 1-for-20 with no RBIs in his last six playoff games, including an 0-for-6 with two walks this week and three strikeouts alone on Friday.
Rodriguez struck out against Carmona with Jeter on second for the second out of the fourth inning, and whiffed on Carmona's full-count pitch with Bobby Abreu on second to end the ninth. A hit in either place and the Yankees probably would be even in the series.Both times, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge elected to pitch to A-Rod with first base open, a testament to his playoff futility. "It was a good battle," Rodriguez said of the ninth inning in particular. "He made a good pitch. I chased ball four." This has got to change, A-Rod admitted, if the Yanks are going to have any pulse left in the series. "I take a lot on myself," said Rodriguez, who hasn't had a postseason RBI now since Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against Boston and a homer since Game 3 of that hallmark series in which the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit for the first time in Major League history. "Maybe one hit there and we win the game. Better yet, if you get walked you give Matsui a chance to put the ball in play. This is a team game." It's also near the end game if the Yankees don't get their offense going.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.