NEW YORK — Almost everything about the Indians’ undoing was familiar.
Just one early bad inning, really, was enough to cost them a game yet again. And Wednesday it was two former star players in Cleveland who did the damage, too.
CC Sabathia struck out nine in his first complete game of the season and Travis Hafner hit a big home run in the Yankees’ 6-4 win over Cleveland.
Brett Gardner also homered for the Yankees, who swept the Indians in the Bronx for the second year in a row. The Yankees put up a four-run inning early on in all three games that accounted for most, if not all, of their runs.
“Ain’t nobody likes to lose three games in a row,” Cleveland’s Nick Swisher said. “It’s kind of a down time for us right now. But I feel like we were being in every ballgame. Just kind of one hit here or there turns things around. So, I feel like we’re kind of on the doorstep right now. We just need to break through it. We’re playing 20 games in a row, playing games at all sorts of hours of the night, it’s taking a little bit of a toll on us.”
Hafner, Sabathia’s teammate in Cleveland when the Indians beat the Yankees in the 2007 playoffs, hit a two-run shot in the first inning off Corey Kluber (3-4), and Gardner added a three-run shot in the second following Chris Stewart’s RBI single.
“His stuff was tremendous the whole game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “A couple of misfires: a fastball to Hafner that ran back over the middle, and a breaking ball — that’s the runs. His stuff was moving all over the place, he competed, he never lost his poise and, because of that and we had to dig out of a hole. But he gave us a chance. And it says a lot for him and his competiveness.”
It was enough for Sabathia, who threw three straight balls to leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, then looked dialed in. He struck out the side in the third, as well as the leadoff hitter in the fourth.
“He was really spotting it up,” Swisher said of his former New York teammate. “I mean, you go into the batter’s box and you’re used to seeing 94-95 mph, and all of a sudden, you’re seeing these back door breaking balls coming at you, just — bam — right on the corner.”
Sabathia (6-4) did not allow a baserunner until Mike Aviles singled cleanly with two outs in the fifth inning, then he looked more pedestrian. But it was enough — and it gave the Yankees’ bullpen a much-needed rest. Despite the sweep, New York needed more than seven innings from its relievers to close out the Indians the previous two nights.
“It’s just the way we would draw it up,” Gardner said. “He looked real good. He had no-hit stuff.”
Cleveland put together a couple of runs in the sixth on three straight singles capped by Jason Kipnis’ run-scoring hit off first baseman Mark Teixeira’s glove. Swisher added a second run when he reached on a fielder’s choice.
Yan Gomes hit a two-run shot off Sabathia in the seventh inning to get the Indians within two runs.
Kluber was rocked early, but gathered himself enough to make it through six innings with seven hits and a walk. He struck out eight, and only was charged with four earned runs because Bourn couldn’t handle Robinson Cano’s sinking liner in center before Hafner’s home run.
“I just left a few balls over the heart of the plate a little too much early on. The difference was, I didn’t make those mistakes after that,” Kluber said. “At that point, I was just trying to go deep in the game, continuing to get outs and just try to keep them there to give us a chance to come back and win.”
The Indians have won four of their last 16 since an 18-4 run put them temporarily atop the AL Central.
The Indians have been champions of May in recent years, too, only to falter down the stretch. Swisher, who wasn’t there for those finishes while with the Yankees, thinks the Indians will turn this around.
“Absolutely. This squad is different, man. This is a completely different team,” he said. “We’re going to go through ups and downs. We’ve got a lot of learning to do. But, man, I think we have so much talent in here. It might be just me that thinks that, but I think everybody in this clubhouse agrees with me.”