September 23, 2014

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Indians blow chance to win series

By CHRIS ASSENHEIMER

Staff Writer

CLEVELAND — Indians starting pitchers came prepared to sweep the dreaded New York Yankees in a four-game series at Progressive Field — the Bronx Bombers’ only trip of the season to Cleveland.

But thanks to an offense that continues to hold back the defending Central Division champions, the Indians were only able to take care of half of the deal.

With another effective outing from the rotation going by the wayside Monday, Cleveland dropped the series finale to New York, 5-2, splitting the set after taking the first two games.

The Indians have lost two straight after posting a season-high five-game winning streak.

A night after C.C. Sabathia allowed just a run on four hits in a 1-0 loss to the Yanks and Chien-Ming Wang, it was Aaron Laffey’s turn to take the hard-luck defeat.

On the same day that he was promoted from Triple-A Buffalo, Laffey no-hit the vaunted Bronx Bomber lineup through the first five innings of his season debut, but got nothing in return from his offense, which went scoreless on three hits through the first four innings against Yanks starter Mike Mussina.

Cleveland, which got four effective outings from its starting pitchers in the four games — Paul Byrd, Jeremy Sowers, C.C. Sabathia and Laffey — scored just 12 runs in the series, two over the final two games.

“I feel like our approach is better,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team entered the game hitting .247, second-to-last in the American League to Chicago’s .243. “We still have several individuals who need to step up their game, offensively. We need to get contributions from everybody in our lineup.”

That includes designated hitter Travis Hafner, who endured a substandard season last year and appears headed in that direction again, hitting just .219 (21-for-96) with 26 strikeouts in 25 games. He drove in one of Cleveland’s runs with a sacrifice fly in his team’s two-run fifth, but went 0-for-3 and has just seven hits in 47 at-bats over his last 13 games.

“We need to get the big guy going,” Wedge said. “He’s right there in the middle of our lineup. He’s a guy that we count on.”

Wedge said he has not considered moving Hafner down in the order.

The Indians actually outhit the Yankees 8-5, but did not capitalize on their opportunities the way their guests did – especially in the sixth inning, when New York ruined Laffey’s night with a flurry of small ball.

An infield single from Melky Cabrera broke up the left-hander’s no-hitter to lead off the inning, which preceded another infield single and a conventional base hit from Bobby Abreu that loaded the bases.

Laffey hit Alex Rodriguez to force a run home, then got two ground ball outs that scored two more runs. Another infield single from Morgan Ensberg off reliever Jensen Lewis put the Yanks up 4-2 and left Laffey’s line at four earned runs on just three hits through 5 2/3 innings.

“That one inning, not a whole lot happened,” Wedge said of the sixth. “But they took advantage of some ground balls that didn’t go our way. It’s a crazy game.

“(Laffey) was putting the ball on the ground, he was making pitches. He gave us every opportunity to win the ballgame.”

“It was a case of bad luck, I guess,” said Laffey, who was a victim of a similar inning this season at Buffalo.

Laffey ended last season as the Indians’ fifth starter and is expected to fill in for Jake Westbrook while the right-hander mends on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his rib cage. He looked up to the task against the stiffest of competition in New York.

“I felt great,” said Laffey, who after allowing the first two batters of the game to reach base – one on a Jamey Carroll error – he retired the next 14 batters he faced before hitting Robinson Cano with a pitch with two outs in the fifth. “I was hitting my spots. I was getting them to ground out, pop out, whatever it may be.”

The Indians put two aboard to lead off the third against Mussina, who allowed two runs on seven hits through five innings. But after Jason Michaels moved both up on a sacrifice bunt, Mussina struck out David Dellucci and got Carroll to ground to first.

“I feel like we should have scored more than two runs,” Wedge said. “We’ve got to take advantage of opportunities. That’s when you really need to separate.”

Michaels, batting just .173 (9-for-52) when the game began, was one of the few Cleveland position players to enjoy a productive night. He went 2-for-3 and made a diving catch in right field on a shallow fly ball from Derek Jeter to end the seventh inning.

Assenheimer may be reached at cassenheimer@chroniclet.com or 440-329-7137.