NEW YORK -- If you're scoring at home, protect your eyes, because it's been pretty ugly for the Indians this week at Yankee Stadium. In the first two games of a three-game set with the Yankees, Indians starters have lasted all of 4 1/3 innings, giving up 14 runs in the process. Oh, and given those numbers, it probably goes without saying that the Tribe has lost both games. But just for the record, they were on the wrong end of a 9-2 finish Wednesday night.
This time around, the unsuspecting victim of an attack from the Bronx Bombers was Jeremy Sowers, who was tattooed for six runs on nine hits in just 2 2/3 innings of work. Though his command obviously could have been sharper, the left-handed Sowers did manage to place quite a number of his pitches where he wanted them. Trouble was, the Yankees were particularly adept at waiting for the right ones to swing at. "They're patient," Sowers said of the Yanks. "Some guys will swing at the first pitch, but they're not going to swing at balls." Sowers learned that right away, when he walked Johnny Damon to begin the bottom of the first. "When you walk the first batter of a game," Sowers said, "that can be a premonition of what your command is going to be." Derek Jeter doubled, and Bobby Abreu chipped in with a sacrifice fly, and already Sowers was down 1-0. Still, the true strength of Sowers' game is his ability to make adjustments within a start. He's given up runs in the first before, but he's usually quite skilled at not making the same mistake twice. Not this time around. After the Indians afforded Sowers a 2-1 lead through Jason Michaels' and Travis Hafner's RBI singles off left-hander Kei Igawa in the third, Sowers saw his third outing of the season completely unravel in dramatic fashion. Derek Jeter began the bruising in the bottom of the third with a leadoff double, Abreu drove him in with a single and Jason Giambi contributed an RBI double into the right-field corner to make it 3-2. The doubles both came in three-ball counts. "I was working behind some hitters, but I made some decent pitches in the third inning," Sowers said. "They came back with some hard-hit balls." Pitching coach Carl Willis visited Sowers' on the mound after Giambi's double, but the outing didn't get any better from that point. Jorge Posada singled to put runners on the corners, and Robinson Cano hit a groundball single on a comebacker up the middle to knock in another run. Former Indians player Josh Phelps ripped an RBI single through the hole on the left side, and Damon wrapped up the outburst and ended Sowers' evening when he singled down the first-base line to bring Cano home and make it 6-2. That those final RBIs all came on ground balls was a point of frustration for Sowers, who, like teammate Jake Westbrook a night earlier, found himself forced to an early exit. "It's just part of baseball," Sowers said. "Like with Westbrook [on Tuesday], we're not notorious for striking guys out, so the ball is put in play. Just by the percentage of more balls put in play, the more holes are going to align. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get around that and made some pitches and let those guys drive in some runs." As for the Indians driving in runs, well, that's been a bit of a prickly issue, too. Though it would be unrealistic to expect or demand the sort of heroic effort it would take for the offense to overcome the roughshod work of the starters in these two games, the Tribe still could have managed a better effort than it's produced, as far as manager Eric Wedge is concerned. "We haven't done a good job offensively," Wedge said. "Guys are still working to grind through it." The Indians' only previous exposure to Igawa, a Japanese import and a product of this past winter's posting system, came briefly in Spring Training, so this was their first real look at him. It didn't go very well. Igawa limited them to five hits and a walk over six innings, and the productive third inning was cut short when Ryan Garko hit into a double play. The lack of productivity isn't limited to this series. Indians batters are hitting just .242 (88-for-364) as a unit. Regardless, when the starters turn in two clunkers like the ones delivered by Sowers and Westbrook, the Tribe isn't going to stand much of a chance. "Obviously, this is not what you look for," Wedge said. "Our starting pitching the last couple days has not been what we need and, offensively, we're still not on track."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.