Things started out pretty well for the Indians: They kicked around Roger Clemens, who up until last year was Roger Clemens, The Greatest Pitcher That Ever Lived, and held a 3-0 lead going into the Yankees' half of the third inning. Jake Westbrook, against long odds, survived the Yankees' lineup through four innings with no tremendous problems.
Then the floor caved in.
The Yankees jumped on Westbrook on their second trip through the order in the fifth inning, going single-double-single-three-run bomb to jump to a 4-3 lead. Westbrook managed to retire Cap'n Super Clutch Derek—because after all, now the Yankees had the lead and it was no longer a Clutch Situation©; no doubt had Damon walked instead of selfishly hitting a home run, Cap'n Derek would have hit a colossal grand slam that wouldn't have landed until... now—and Bobby Abreu to escape. After the suckiest postseason player in the history of postseason athletic competition, Alex Rodriguez, managed to reach base on an infield single to start the bottom of the sixth, Westbrook had embarrassed himself so thoroughly that Eric Wedge had no choice but to pull him.
OK, not really. But you just know that's what many New York writers wanted to write.
Wedge was wise to pull Westbrook the second Rodriguez reached base and hand it over to his bullpen. Unfortunately, Aaron Fultz came in and got rocked even worse, yielding four runs and making it 8-3 just in time for Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera. In other words, Game Over.
The unheralded big catalyst for the Yankees' success in Game 3 was Hideki Matsui, playing in the DH slot and reaching base four times with two singles and two walks, finding himself conveniently on base for Johnny Damon to drive in with his singles and bomb time and again.
Oh, and in case you're keeping track at home:
Alex Rodriguez: 2 for 10, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts; .200/.333/.200
Derek Jeter: 1 for 12, 0 walks, 4 strikeouts, 2 GIDP; .083/.083/.083
Rodriguez has been bad, but there's a good reason you haven't heard anything about his un-clutchiness.
Now the stage is set for Game 4 tonight, and it looks good for the Yankees. They're sending out Chien-Ming Wang, who will pitch on short rest, yes, but Wang will also have the benefit of the soaked infields at Yankee Stadium. His home-road splits are extreme, and it's a good idea to bank on a strong performance from Wang tonight, maybe as strong as six innings, one run before turning it over to the bullpen.
Wang is unlikely to need to pitch any further into the game than that, because Eric Wedge has decided to concede Game 4 and take his chances on Game 5 back in Cleveland with both C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona fully rested. The Indians are sending out Paul Byrd tonight, and chances are slim that Byrd will last five innings. Byrd is good at what he does—he never walks anybody and hits his spots—but the Yankees' lineup, built around patience and left-handed power, is tailor-made to destroy his type. Indians fans should be thrilled, absolutely thrilled, if Byrd can give them 5 innings, 4 runs, or even 5 innings, 5 runs. In his one start against the Yankees this season (in Cleveland), Byrd lasted 2 innings and gave up 7.
The odds are long against an Indians win tonight, and should the Yankees somehow manage to squander this gift-from-the-gods pitching match up, no doubt heads will roll in New York. Assuming the Yankees do take game 4—and I would bet on a blowout tonight—we're set up for game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday, Andy Pettitte vs. C.C. Sabathia, and let us not forget that Sabathia is the best pitcher in the American League right now.
It's anybody's series.
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