CLEVELAND — Postseason experience, the Yankees have it and the Indians don’t.
Does it matter?
“I don’t think so,” said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, a veteran of 119 playoff games. “We lost to Anaheim (in the 2002 Division Series) and we lost to the Marlins (in the 2003 World Series) and they didn’t have any experience.
“It doesn’t make a difference. It’s one of those things where if you win, then experience helped. If you don’t, then they were hungry.”
If experience is an edge, New York has a decided one, qualifying for the postseason for the 13th consecutive time this season and standing as baseball’s landmark of playoff success, while the Indians are back for the first time since 2001.
It’s just that some aren’t sure that it is.
“I’m sure it’s nice to have experience,” said Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner, one of the many Indians regulars who have none. “But I think there’s something to be said for the newness of the playoffs and everybody being excited for it.”
“Look at ’95, none of us had ever been there before,” said Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton, who played on a Cleveland team that advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1954 before losing in six games to the Atlanta Braves.
Inexperience in the postseason runs deep for the Indians, whose manager, Eric Wedge, is a playoff rookie, squaring off against Joe Torre, who owns more October victories (75) than any manager in the history of the game.
They will find out if any of it matters when the Division Series is complete and one of the teams is moving on.
“It’ll be a great opportunity to go out and prove something against one of the greatest postseason teams ever,” said Indians outfielder Trot Nixon.
Though they were a division champion and finished tied for the best record in baseball, the Indians will open the Division Series as an overlooked underdog to the vaunted Yankees.
How does that sit with them?
“I really don’t care who’s the underdog and who’s the favorite,” Hafner said. “It’s all decided on the field anyway.”
“It’s good to be in the position we’re in,” said Cleveland’s Game 1 starter, C.C. Sabathia. “Nobody thought we’d be here right now. We’ve got a group of confident guys. We know what we can do against any baseball team in the league.”
Though they won all six regular-season meetings with the Indians, the Yankees know Cleveland is no pushover.
“They’ve got a good team. It goes without saying,” Jeter said. “They have guys that can dominate pitching and guys that can swing the bat. But pretty much everybody is good in the playoffs.”
Just win, baby
Not surprisingly, the Indians are viewing the opening game of the Division Series as a near must-win.
“We need to win Game 1 no matter what,” said third baseman Casey Blake. “In a short series, those first couple games are huge.”
“I’m feeling the pressure,” Sabathia said. “It would be big to win Game 1, definitely. We’re starting here at home and get a chance to use the home-field advantage. I feel like it’s going to be a big game.”
At least one member of the Indians is putting some stock in the Yankees’ perfect regular-season record against his team.
“That’s something we need to learn from,” said pitcher Jake Westbrook. “We didn’t play well against those guys. We have to take what we learned and figure out a way to beat them.”
Westbrook is scheduled to start Game 3 at Yankee Stadium against Roger Clemens.
Yankees manager Joe Torre announced his team’s Division Series roster and his starting lineup for Game 1, but Wedge did neither. Cleveland’s manager has said all along that he would wait until the last minute (10 a.m. deadline today) to announce the roster.
Wedge did say there would be no surprises in his Game 1 lineup, which means the Indians will most likely employ their usual starters against a right-handed pitcher, with Lofton in left field.
Though he won’t pitch in Cleveland, Clemens was at Jacobs Field on Wednesday, optimistic that his ailing hamstring would not be a factor in his Game 3 start.
“In this type of atmosphere, I could have pitched Game 1, but they elected to take the cautious approach,” Clemens said.
Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, has dominated the Indians throughout his career, producing a 27-8 record and 3.13 ERA in 49 starts. But the 45-year-old right-hander hasn’t pitched against them since 2003.
The last time the Indians and Yankees met in the playoffs was 1998, when New York beat Cleveland in the American League Championship Series, four games to two, and went on to sweep the Padres in the World Series. The year prior to that, the Indians beat the Yankees in five games in the Division Series and advanced to the World Series, where they lost in seven games to the Marlins.
• Cleveland’s starting pitchers led the American League with a 4.19 ERA, while New York led the majors with 968 runs (Cleveland was eighth with 811).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.