CLEVELAND — The Indians passed out Tribe spirit flags to the sellout crowd of 41,977 that attended their game with the New York Yankees at Jacobs Field on Saturday night.
They should have been white ones.
As they did in the series opener on Friday, the Indians surrendered early to the Bronx Bombers, who laid another pin-striped whipping on them — 11-2 — in front of Cleveland’s largest crowd of the year.
New York got a pair of two-run home runs from Alex Rodriguez and one of Mike Mussina’s best outings of the year to move within a game of sweeping the sagging Indians, who lost for the third time in four games.
The surging Yankees, who outhit the Indians 19-10, improved to 22-8 since the All-Star break, winning for the 10th time in 12 games. First-place Cleveland also lost a game to Detroit in the Central Division standings, with its lead down to a half game.
New York, which has won all five meetings with Cleveland this year, has outscored the Indians 17-3, while outhitting them 29-14, in the first two games of the series.
“They’re swinging the bats about as good as you can swing it right now,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge of the Yankees, who entered the game leading the majors in batting average (.324), hits (334) home runs (51) and runs (220) since the All-Star break. “Their offense is about as hot as you can be.”
It was over quickly for the Indians, who got the briefest outing of the year from starter Paul Byrd, who lasted just two innings, while allowing a season-high seven earned runs on seven hits.
It was Byrd’s first loss in six starts.
“They got to him early,” Wedge said. “The biggest thing with Paul is that he got behind and they got into hitter’s counts against him.”
Byrd worked a scoreless first inning before the Yankees went to work on the veteran right-hander for seven runs in the second. A two-run double from Johnny Damon, a two-run single from Bobby Abreu and Rodriguez’s first homer of the game scored six of the runs. Rodriguez has homered three times in the first two games of the series.
“It was just a combination of everything,” Byrd said. “Anything I tried to throw didn’t work.”
Byrd had a chance to get out of the second-inning fray with just three New York runs crossing the plate when he struck out Derek Jeter and had Abreu in the hole. But Abreu fouled off a number of pitches before muscling a two-strike pitch into left. Rodriguez’s drive to center followed.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Byrd said of Abreu’s single. “That was the hit that really crushed me.
“They’re hot right now. This is not the same team that took the field in April and May. Everybody’s clicking right now.”
Offense was again a no-show for the Indians, who scored two runs or fewer for the 11th time in their last 19 games.
Cleveland scored once off Mussina in the opening inning, but packed it in after New York’s second-inning outburst, mustering just one hit from the fifth through seventh innings. Mussina allowed two runs on eight hits through 7 2/3 innings.
It was the longest outing of the season for the veteran right-hander, who had worked seven innings just twice in 19 previous outings.
Mussina left to a chant of “Moose,” from the crowd, which, similar to the recent Boston series at Jacobs Field, contained a number of opposing fans.
“He threw a good ball game,” Wedge said. “I thought we had some decent at-bats, hit some balls hard, but we were never able to get anything going.”
Victor Martinez drove in the Indians’ final run with a double in the eighth inning off Mussina, scoring Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera pinch hit for second baseman Josh Barfield and recorded his first big league hit — a double to left-center.
It was one of the few positive sights for the Indians, who have developed a disturbing trend as of late — losing at home.
Cleveland, which began the year as one of the majors’ best home teams, has dropped 11 of its last 15 games at Jacobs Field. The home woes have come at an inopportune time for the Indians, who are 13-16 since the All-Star break.
Cleveland completes its series with New York today before an off-day that is followed by a two-game home set with Detroit.
“I guess the atmosphere in this clubhouse is that we need to get back on track,” Byrd said. “I think we all know that.
“We have two big series here. This isn’t the way we wanted to start the first one.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 653-0899 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. New York
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Westbrook (3-6, 5.00 ERA) vs. Pettitte (8-7, 4.00)
TV/RADIO: Channel 3; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM