CLEVELAND — C.C. Sabathia considers Cavaliers star LeBron James a friend, which is why he’s giving him a pass on cheering for the New York Yankees.
“It’s one of those things,” said Sabathia, who was on the mound for Game 1, with James in attendance wearing a Yankees cap. “I didn’t have a problem with it. He’s a Yankees fan.
“I knew he was coming. I didn’t know he was going to have his Yankees hat and stuff. My family (in attendance) told me people were all over him. It is what it is. He’s a Yankees fan and he’s sticking with them.”
Cleveland fans weren’t as understanding, harassing James for much of the game, chanting “Take off the hat” at one point. James turned the cap backward when the Indians took a commanding lead in the fifth inning then left the park when Cleveland was in the midst of scoring more in the sixth.
“They got on LeBron James,” said Yankees manager Joe Torre. “I’m happy he’s a Yankees fan. I’m sure they’ll cheer him when he goes down the court here shortly.”
Indians fans did not forget in Game 2, with derogatory James signs littering Jacobs Field, including one that read, “Sorry LeBron, Kenny’s the King.”
It was just some of the anti-Yankee sentiment that has permeated Cleveland with New York in town.
“The whole thing about it is they’re hungry,” said Torre of Cleveland sports fans. “I’m sure they weren’t crazy about the Cleveland Browns going somewhere else either.
“People are very nice here, and you have some people that like to harass here at the ballpark. I remember David Wells was warming up for a start here in the postseason (1998 ALCS) and he heard some things that he hadn’t heard before, which is saying something.”
Back in there
As expected, right-handed hitting Jason Michaels was in the lineup against left-hander Andy Pettitte on Friday, but unexpectedly, Franklin Gutierrez was not.
Indians manager Eric Wedge rode the hot hand, starting Kenny Lofton in left field, while Michaels, who usually plays left against lefties, started in right in place of Gutierrez.
Lofton, who went 3-for-4 with four RBIs in Game 1, entered Friday hitting just .138 (4-for-29) in his career off Pettitte.
“The fact of the matter is, a guy stepping up having a night like (Lofton on Thursday) deserves to be in there,” Wedge said.
General manager Mark Shapiro favors using instant replay to judge whether a fly ball over the fence is fair or foul, believing it would not stop the game any longer to watch a replay than for umpires to confer.
It would have come into play in Game 1, when Johnny Damon led off with a home run to right that was originally ruled foul.
“Those are calls you can get right, and it would be easy,” Shapiro said. “Why not?”
Eric Wedge isn’t as enthusiastic.
“The old-school in me says I don’t like it,” Wedge said. “But I’d have to think about it. I can tell you this: Anything beyond that, I’d be against. The human aspect is a big part of this game.”
Next in line?
Indians third base coach Joel Skinner is considered an early candidate to replace Jim Tracy, who was fired Friday after two seasons as the Pirates manager.
Skinner served as Cleveland’s interim manager in 2002 after Charlie Manuel was fired, and is familiar with Neal Huntington, who left the Indians to become Pirates general manager.
Pittsburgh’s director of player development, Brian Graham, an assistant coach on Mike Hargrove’s staff in Cleveland (1999), was let go as well.
Torre will place no limitations on his Game 3 starter Roger Clemens, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Clemens hasn’t pitched since Sept. 16 at Boston.
“If he doesn’t let his pitch count run up there, I think he’s able to run 100-plus pitches or 100 pitches anyway,” Torre said.
Clemens has owned the Indians throughout his career, going 27-8 with a 3.31 ERA in 49 starts — his last coming July 18, 2003, in a 10-4 victory at Yankee Stadium.
Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook will square off against Clemens, his teammate in New York during the 2000 season — the same year he was traded to Cleveland along with pitcher Zach Day for outfielders David Justice and Ricky Ledee.
“I’m excited,” said Westbrook, who made two starts for the Yanks in 2000.
The Yankees have lost the opening game of the Division Series five times — 1996, 2000, ’01, ’03 and ’04 — coming back to win each of the series.
• Damon’s leadoff home run off Sabathia on Thursday was the first ever to begin a playoff series.
• The Indians will work out today at Yankee Stadium in preparation for Game 3 on Sunday at 6:37 p.m.
• Recording star and actor Queen Latifah threw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday.
• Though the game was a sellout, there were a number of open seats at first pitch.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.