The Indians are doing a great job bugging the New York Yankees, both at the plate and on the mound. And they're one win away from sweeping them out of the division series.
On a bizarre night in Jacobs Field that saw swarms of bugs descend off Lake Erie and make life miserable for Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain, the Indians eked out a 2-1 win on Travis Hafner's bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 11th inning Friday.
Cleveland leads the best-of-five set, two games to none, and can wrap it up Sunday in Yankee Stadium as 45-year-old Roger Clemens -- who hasn't pitched since Sept. 16 and threw just 10 innings the entire month -- tries to keep the Yankees' season alive against Cleveland's Jake Westbrook.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the 11th, Hafner worked the count full against Yankees reliever Luis Vizcaino. With the crowd of 44,732 on its feet roaring and waving its white rally towels, Hafner clubbed his single to right field to score Kenny Lofton with the winning run.
"That's what you dream about as a kid," Hafner said. "[On] 3-2, he threw me a change-up and I was able to stay back on it, put a good swing on it and hit a line drive up the middle."
Lofton led off the inning with a walk and went to second on Franklin Gutierrez's single. After a sacrifice and a walk loaded the bases, Asdrubal Cabrera popped up for the second out to set the stage for Hafner.
While that at-bat was the game's climactic moment, it's not what history will forever recall from this one.
The midges, gnat-like flies from Lake Erie, descended on the ballpark as the Yankees batted in the eighth and clearly distracted Chamberlain.
"Just when you think you've seen it all. I guess that's home-field advantage for them," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "They let the bugs out and it worked."
The Yankees were protecting a 1-0 lead they earned on Melky Cabrera's solo homer in the third off Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona when the bugs rolled in.
Infielders, batters and umpires were swatting them away from their faces for a good half-hour as play continued. Television close-ups showed the bugs all over Chamberlain's face and back.
In the eighth, he walked two men, hit a third and uncorked two wild pitches. The second allowed Grady Sizemore to scamper home from third and forge a 1-1 tie.
"I was trying to be ready," Sizemore said. "I saw the ball go in the dirt and I knew it would bounce back but I had to take a chance. The bugs were everywhere. It was annoying. It was frustrating to hit and had to be frustrating to pitch."
It was arduous game at the plate for the Indians, who were an anemic 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position until Hafner's hit and left 14 men on base.
The late rally allowed Carmona to avoid losing a game in which he was virtually unhittable over nine innings. Carmona, who recorded 18 ground-ball outs, combined with reliever Rafael Perez on a three-hitter.
The Yankees have been pathetic at the plate in the series. They have just eight hits in 20 innings and are batting only .121. Cleveland relievers have given up just one hit in six innings.
Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts against Carmona, extending his streak of hitless postseason at-bats to 18 and making him 3 for 35 in the division series the last three years.
"I just continued pitching the way I had been pitching the whole year," Carmona said. "I knew there were a lot of flies but I was trying to stay focused. I was not going to allow anything or anybody to distract me."e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org