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Game One Hundred Sixty-Six: Indians 6, Yankees 4

Cleveland wins series 3-1

Box Score
Win Probability Added @ Fangraphs

Highest WPA:

Paul Byrd .101
Kelly Shoppach .097
Jhonny Peralta .091

Lowest WPA:

Kenny Lofton -.055
Franklin Gutierrez -.014

Monday's game lasted over 4 hours, and for most of that time the Indians were leading. For me, that meant four hours of looking forward to the 9th inning, when in all probability Joe Borowski would be coming in to finish the game. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Paul Byrd's stuff may be the worst in baseball. But as evidenced in Game 4, stuff isn't necessarily a barrier to at least some modicum of success. That means being exceptional in some other area of the craft, whether that be control, knowing how to attack a hitter, the ability to adjust on the fly, to self-diagnose mechanical problems on the mound, and so on. Against a lineup that usually eats junkballers for breakfast, those compensatory qualities all needed to be there. And a bit of BABIP luck.

Through the first couple innings, Byrd didn't look like he'd be lasting long. He pitched around a couple singles in the first by striking out Alex Rodriguez and retiring Jorge Posada on a fly ball. Hideki Matsui, who led off the second, took exception to Byrd's double windup, and called time. Byrd took exception to the call, and it seemed to affect his control. Matsui walked, and a sharp single by Robinson Cano created the jam that  could have ended Byrd's night. After getting Melky Cabrera to pop out, he walked his second of the inning to load the bases. But he made a nice pitch to Johnny Damon, inducing another pop up, and after allowing one run on a Derek Jeter single, retired Bobby Abreu to end the inning.

That second inning was one of a couple turning points in the game, points where one bad pitch could have led to disaster. The second point came in the sixth inning, with Rafael Perez struggling to throw strikes, Yankees on the corner, one out, and Derek Jeter coming to the plate. Jeter hit a hard grounder at Asdrubal Cabrera to start an inning-ending double play. Another crisis averted.

Alex Rodriguez drove in his first run of the series off Perez in the seventh. The bomb brought the lead down to three runs, which meant that Joe Borowski would be pitching the ninth (I think he would have done so anyway, but why ruin a good narrative?). To completely clarify the difference between the chief setup man and the closer, Rafael Betancourt easily dispatched the Yankees in the eighth, two on strikeouts.

I suppose it's irrational to approach the entrance of Joe Borowski with dread; after all, it means the Indians have the lead (in this case three runs), and the odds are highly stacked against a loss. But when the bottom of the ninth arrived, all rational thinking went with it. After four hours, was it really going to come down to Joe Borowski getting three outs against the middle of the Yankee order?

Derek Jeter's popout helped to diffuse a tiny bit of the fear, but Joe then proceeded to groove one down and in to Bobby Abreu. 6-4 Yankees. Now one more baserunner, and the blown save becomes a possibility. A-Rod hits one in the air...not going anywhere - whew! Two outs, and just Jorge Posada to get...NO!!......that was close. Please don't blow this, please don't blow this...YESSSSSS!

This series win wasn't an upset, though the payrolls would suggest otherwise. The Indians had the better starting pitching, the better relief pitching, and the better offense. The first two were known advantages coming into the series, but the last one was what completely swung the series to the Indians. And outside of Fausto Carmona's sublime performance in Game 2, no one player carried the team: nine different players drove in runs for the Indians, and six different players hit a home run. As a team, the Indians hit .315/.417/.524. As a team, the Indians allowed a 3.41 ERA. On paper, the Indians dominated this series. Just don't go back in time a couple of days to tell me that.

Next: The ALCS. Beckett vs. Sabathia (7:00, Friday)