Laffey's fast start for naught vs. Yanks

Laffey's fast start for naught vs. Yanks

CLEVELAND -- It doesn't always take a barrage of line drives to win a game in the big leagues.

Sometimes you can get away with doing what the Yankees did to the Indians on Monday night.

Tribe pitching, led by a strong showing from the freshly promoted Aaron Laffey, limited the potent Yanks to just five hits, only two of which made it out of the infield. Yet those little dribblers were more than enough to send the Indians to a 5-2 loss in front of 20,689 at Progressive Field.

The Indians would settle for some fluky infield hits that somehow sneak runs across.

After two days of feeble forays at the plate that turned a 2-0 series advantage into a four-game split with the Yanks, they'll take anything they can get.

These latest troubles have gone a lot further than the absence of leadoff man Grady Sizemore.

"Individuals need to step up their game offensively," manager Eric Wedge said.

Like No. 3 hitter Travis Hafner, who has seven hits in his last 47 at-bats. Or No. 6 hitter Ryan Garko, who is hitless in his last 23 at-bats.

"We break down our lineup in terms of the top three, the middle three and the bottom three and we need contributions from them all," Wedge said. "Each part needs to do its part."

On Sunday, Chien-Ming Wang pulled the Tribe apart, to the tune of seven shutout innings in which he allowed just four hits. On this night, it was soft-tossing veteran Mike Mussina flustering them for five innings.

Mussina hardly overpowered the Indians. His fastball and changeup were barely distinguishable. And the Indians did create opportunities against him, as evidenced by the seven hits they tallied before he turned it over to the Yankees' bullish bullpen.

But with two runners in scoring position and one out in the third, David Dellucci went down swinging and Jamey Carroll grounded out.

In the fourth, the Indians stranded a runner at second.

And in the fifth, they put runners on the corners with none out. Jason Michaels came through with a bloop RBI single, and Dellucci followed with a single to load the bases.

This was the Tribe's shot to break the game open. All it resulted in was a popout from Carroll, a sacrifice fly from Hafner, a walk from Victor Martinez and a lineout from Jhonny Peralta.

"We couldn't get the big hit," Carroll said.

That was Mussina's final inning, and he needed 92 pitches to get through the short outing. But that was little consolation to Wedge.

"We most definitely should have done a better job taking advantage of the opportunities we had," Wedge said. "We at least should have scored one or two more runs. We made Mussina work, but you've got to take advantage. That's where you really separate yourself."

For the moment, the Indians and Yanks were separated on the scoreboard by a 2-0 count. And Laffey, who no-hit the Yanks through five innings and retired 14 in a row at one point, made that slim margin look safe.

Until the sixth -- an inning Wedge would later call "funky."

Laffey's undoing began when Melky Cabrera grounded an infield single to short. Peralta had no play on the ball.

Derek Jeter followed with a swinging-bunt single toward third base. Casey Blake had no play on that one.

The bases became loaded on Bobby Abreu's legit liner to left. And Laffey, trying to work inside to Alex Rodriguez, as the Indians did all weekend, plunked him with a fastball to bring a run home. The Yanks then tied the game and took the lead when Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui each drove in a run by grounding out to first.

Indeed, the Yanks hardly pounded Laffey into submission.

"It's tough," Laffey said. "My second outing of the year at [Triple-A] Buffalo, in Richmond, I gave up four runs with only one hit out of the infield. The second time was more frustrating than the first. It's not something you want to get used to."

The craziness of that particular inning aside, Laffey pitched well in his first start in place of the injured Jake Westbrook. But it was nonetheless time for him to come out. And reliever Jensen Lewis had equally tough luck when Morgan Ensberg sent a swinging bunt toward the mound and Lewis couldn't get a grip on it. That single scored another run to make it 4-2.

In fact, when Matsui drove home a run off Lewis in the eighth with a line-drive single to the gap in right-center field, it was something of a revelation -- an actual, well-swatted RBI.

By that point, though, the Indians were already well on their way to defeat because of their inability to generate anything more on the offensive end. They didn't even get so much as a baserunner against the Yankees' back end of Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera.

Wedge was asked if his offense is pressing, as it had during an early-April funk that had appeared to dissipate last week in Kansas City.

"I don't think that's the case here," Wedge said. "The approach has been a lot better, we're making pitchers work more and our at-bats have been a lot better."

The results the last two days have been another story entirely.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.