NEW YORK -- A knockout punch it was not. The only worry now, in the wake of an 8-4 loss to the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, is that the Indians might have exposed themselves to a variation of the ol' rope-a-dope. A Tribe team that was hoping to become the first club to sweep the vaunted Yanks in a postseason series in 27 years will instead have to suit up for Game 4 at 7:37 p.m. ET Monday night, with veteran Paul Byrd getting the start opposite Chien-Ming Wang.
And in dropping a game that had been in hand early on, the Indians exposed themselves to the possibility that they just might have rattled the lion's cage. "They made a statement tonight," Byrd said of the Yanks. The statement, simply, was that this series is far from over. It looked to be over in the early innings of this game, when the Indians jumped on an aged and hobbling Roger Clemens, and starter Jake Westbrook was racking up the double-play balls. The Tribe had a 3-0 lead in the middle of the third. It was built on a solid approach against Clemens, who looked like a shell of his former self. His fastball was topping out around 91 mph, and he appeared to still be feeling the effects of a left hamstring strain that limited him to just two September starts. The Indians took advantage with Ryan Garko's RBI single up the middle in the first, a second-inning solo shot from Trot Nixon, who was given a rare start because of his history of success against Clemens, and Jhonny Peralta's RBI double in the third. "[Clemens] is a competitor," Nixon said. "He's a Hall of Fame pitcher. But obviously, he wasn't 100 percent." And obviously, the Indians' chances of winning this game weren't 100 percent, either, regardless of the strong start. Still, the champagne -- and an ALCS berth against the Red Sox -- was beginning to come in sight. The picture, though, began to fade as Westbrook's five-inning outing evolved. In the bottom of the third, the Yankees woke a slumbering sellout crowd by pushing a run across on Johnny Damon's RBI single. Yet Westbrook still managed to get out of that potential trip-up by forcing his third double play in as many innings, and he set the Yanks down in order in the fourth. Trouble was, by that point, the Yankees had already made the pitching change that would dictate an overall change in the tone of the game. Clemens was gone by the end of the third and replaced by young Phil Hughes. The Rocket's hamstring problem had gotten the best of him, but the Indians couldn't get the best of the rookie Hughes. He pitched 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, holding the Tribe to just two hits in that span. "He was huge for them," manager Eric Wedge said of Hughes. "That kid came in, and he's got a live fastball and a tough breaking ball. He started mixing in a changeup a little bit. If you talk about the difference between Roger and him and just the way they pitch, [the change] threw us off a little bit." And when Westbrook's outing was similarly thrown off course, the Indians saw their 3-1 lead go to waste.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.