NEW YORK (AP) – Once Grady Sizemore hit a leadoff home run, the Cleveland Indians were headed to the AL championship series while the New York Yankees were braced for a showdown with their boss.
Paul Byrd and the Indians bullpen closed out New York 6-4 in Game 4 last night, completing the third straight first-round debacle for the Yankees, one that might cost manager Joe Torre his job.
“It’s tough. It’s exciting,” Sizemore said. “We fought hard and got it done here.”
The Yankees came in streaking, overcoming a 21-29 start to win the AL wild card. But they were done in by poor pitching, an insect invasion and the latest October vanishing act by Alex Rodriguez, whose bat was quiet until a solo home run in the seventh inning.
The pesky Indians, who wasted a three-run lead in Game 3, chased Chien-Ming Wang in the second and burst ahead 4-0. Byrd kept wiggling out of trouble, and Victor Martinez’s two-run single made it 6-1 in the fourth against reliever Mike Mussina.
A day after averting a sweep, New York put runners on in every inning except the eighth. But when it counted, its high-octane offense fell flat once again, with late homers by Rodriguez and Bobby Abreu not enough.
“I got some big outs with guys on base,” said Byrd, who stranded two runners in the first and three in the second.
Cleveland moves on to its first ALCS since 1998, opening Friday night at Boston. The Indians were only 2-5 against the Red Sox this season, but will have aces C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona rested for Fenway Park.
The Indians are seeking their first World Series title since 1948. The NL championship series starts Thursday night with Colorado at Arizona.
Bewildered New York opens yet another offseason of turmoil, another October over nearly as soon as it began. All eyes will be on owner George Steinbrenner, who said over the weekend that he didn’t think he’d keep Torre as manager if New York bowed with another early exit. While the Indians celebrated in the infield, A-Rod stood alongside teammates, one leg on the top step of the dugout on the top deck of the deck, the other a step below.
Torre managed the Yankees to four World Series titles in his first five years and reached the playoffs in all 12 of his seasons. Yet that might not be enough for Steinbrenner, impatient his team of multimillionaires has gone seven years in a row with no title. If Torre does depart, Don Mattingly and Joe Girardi are the leading candidates to replace him.
“This has been a great 12 years, whatever the hell happens from here on out,” Torre said after the loss. “The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you.”
Fans chanted Torre’s name when he made two trips to the mound in the eighth inning, handing the ball to Mariano Rivera for perhaps the final time in an era that brought the Yankees success they had not enjoyed since the 1950s.
“You can feel their heartbeat,” Torre said of the fans.
A disappointed crowd of 56,315 also might have seen Rodriguez in pinstripes for the final time. A likely MVP during the regular season, A-Rod was largely AWOL in the postseason for the third straight year, striking out with two on in the first and again leading off the third.
Rodriguez, who can opt of his record $252 million, 10-year contract next month, did hit a solo homer off Rafael Perez in the seventh – ending a streak of 57 consecutive postseason at-bats without an RBI since 2004. He finished 4-for-15 in the series.
Rodriguez is not the only one who may depart. Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens also aren’t assured of coming back, although the Yankees probably will try to keep some, if not all.
Derek Jeter will be back, of course. But the hero of postseasons past had just one RBI in the series and bounced into three double plays.