CLEVELAND -- The flock of reporters swarmed upon Paul Byrd's locker on Friday night, and he all but shooed them away. "I really have no business being interviewed right now," Byrd said. "You guys should go somewhere else. Rafael Perez was the man." Indeed, the stellar relief of the young Perez might not have been the original foundation of the Indians' 6-4 victory over the Yankees at Progressive Field, but it certainly kept a late lead from crumbling at the hands of those potent Bronx Bombers bats.
Sent in to preserve the one-run advantage Byrd left behind with two outs in the sixth inning, Perez came through with 2 1/3 innings of nearly spotless work. All he allowed in that span was a walk that went nowhere. "It feels really good, knowing they've got a great lineup," Perez said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "It gives you confidence to know you did your job against that lineup." The Indians, as a unit, are feeling good about the job their lineup has been doing this week. And their output against Andy Pettitte in this one was instrumental in the club's season-high fourth straight victory and first regular-season win over the Yanks since July 4, 2006. Pettitte generally flustered the Tribe early, though the Indians did manage to eke out an unearned run in the first inning. Grady Sizemore reached on Jason Giambi's fielding error and later came around on a Jhonny Peralta single. It wasn't until the fifth inning -- when the Indians were down, 3-1 -- that the offense came alive. And as was the theme for the bats on this night, they came alive with two outs. Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez both ripped ground-ball singles through the left side, and up came Peralta. On Pettitte's 3-1 offering, Peralta was looking for a cutter. When he instead got a changeup, he had no trouble lifting it into the left-field bleachers to give the Indians a 4-3 lead. "I kept my hands back and saw the ball real good," Peralta said. So did Franklin Gutierrez. He stepped in after Peralta and, also on a 3-1 pitch, sent a fastball to the left-field bleachers to pad the cushion. "Guys put up good at-bats," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "We're starting to see consistency with our guys. We're seeing consistency with our at-bats." But seeing the ball fly out of the yard was not uncommon here. Byrd's fly-ball tendencies got the best of him. All four of the runs he served up in 5 2/3 innings came on long balls. Jason Giambi took him deep with a solo shot in the second and again with a two-run shot in the fourth. And the 5-3 lead handed to Byrd by the back-to-back blasts wasn't entirely safe, as he let Hideki Matsui tag him with a sixth-inning solo shot that knocked the righty out of the game. That's where Perez came in. Truly dominant in the left-handed setup role last season, Perez has gone through a bit of a second-year adjustment in his first April in the big leagues. He came into this outing having given up three runs in his last 5 2/3 innings. Sent into this situation, though, Perez was his old, dominant self. In fact, he looked very much like the guy who posted a 1.50 ERA in three appearances against the Yanks in last fall's American League Division Series. It started when he calmly retired Jorge Posada to end the sixth. It continued in the seventh, when he walked Robinson Cano with one out but got Melky Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending double play. And when Perez set down Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu in order in the eighth, he was ready to hand over that two-run lead to former setup mate and current closer Rafael Betancourt. What's more, Perez did all of this in just 23 pitches. "He was efficient," Wedge said. "He was real big for us. I didn't expect him to be in there that long, but with the way he pitched, he was able to keep going." Perez, who has a 5.25 ERA in 11 appearances this season, appeared to have more trust in his stuff. Whereas he's been guilty of nibbling at times this year, he was more aggressive against the Yankees. "I concentrated a lot on the mound," he said. "Not that I hadn't done that before, but I knew the last couple games I had been throwing the ball well, but they were hitting the ball. Tonight, I was moving the ball in and out and low and high. It worked for me." And it worked for the Indians, who watched Betancourt easily convert his second save in as many days. "It was a great win tonight," Byrd said. "All the way around, everybody helped." But in Byrd's mind, Perez was "the man" who helped the most.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.