Yankees complete sweep over Tribe
Strutting into Jacobs Field for the weekend, the Yankees made themselves right at home. They bullied the Cleveland Indians before leaving with three wins and the same confidence that has made them champions many times before.
"I feel like we're the team," Andy Pettitte said.
When weren't they?
Pettitte didn't have much trouble with Cleveland's lame lineup and Jason Giambi homered for the second straight day as the Yankees beat the Indians 5-3 to complete a series -- and season -- sweep on Sunday.
Written off in May when they trailed first-place Boston by 14 1/2 games, the Yankees pulled within four of the Red Sox, who lost 6-3 in 10 innings at Baltimore. It's the closest New York has been to the top of the AL East standings since April 24.
The Yankees have won eight of nine, and with an offense mashing like no other, improved to a baseball-best 23-8 since the All-Star break.
"We've come full circle," said Pettitte, 5-1 in his last seven starts. "We were just struggling in all aspects of the game a few months ago. It was no fun losing. There's not a whole lot to complain about right now."
Pettitte (9-7) carried a shutout into the seventh and allowed seven singles in 7 1-3 innings.
The rock-steady 35-year-old, again pitching for the Yankees after three seasons with the Houston Astros, also used his renowned pickoff move to snuff out Cleveland's rally in the seventh inning.
With Pettitte working on a three-hit shutout, the Indians loaded the bases in the seventh on two hits and a walk. With Jason Michaels due up, pitching coach Ron Guidry visited Pettitte and gathered New York's infielders.
That's when first baseman Andy Phillips and Pettitte, who had only talked about a pickoff play, decided to try one.
Before the second pitch to Michaels, Phillips sneaked behind Jhonny Peralta, and Pettitte fired to first to nail the Indians shortstop, who made sure he returned to Cleveland's dugout down the steps at the far end from manager Eric Wedge.
"We had kind of been waiting for the right time to try it," Pettitte said. "It was nice that it worked."
Pettitte gave up a sacrifice fly, but retired Chris Gomez on a groundout to preserve his lead, which could have been less than three runs if not for the devious play.
And while the game-changing play further energized the Yanks, it was another demoralizing moment for the Indians, who despite being 13-17 since the break, trail the Detroit Tigers by just a half-game in the AL Central. The teams open a two-game series on Tuesday.
"It's tough," Casey Blake said. "Confidence is a big part of this game and the guys in this clubhouse don't have a lot of confidence right now. When things aren't going your way, it's tough to maintain that edge.
"You have to be positive. I don't think anyone is panicking. In the past, I think some people might have pushed the panic button. We have to believe we're going to do it."
Giambi connected for a two-run homer off Jake Westbrook (3-7) in the fourth and Melky Cabrera added a solo shot for the Yankees, who went 6-0 against the Indians, their first season sweep since going 9-0 in 1994.
Asleep offensively most of the weekend, the Indians trailed 4-0 before scoring once in the seventh, eighth and ninth.
Mariano Rivera, called on to work out of a jam in the eighth, gave up three hits and a run to open the ninth as the Indians pulled to 5-3. But with none out and runners at second and third, Rivera struck out Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore before getting Blake on a routine fly to right for his 19th straight save.
Pettitte watched the ninth unfold on a TV in New York's clubhouse. But even when Rivera was presumably in trouble, Pettitte was confident.
"Who would you rather have closing it out than Mo?" he said.
Westbrook allowed four runs and nine hits in seven innings, not bad considering the Yankees are averaging 7.6 runs per game since July 12.
Robinson Cano's RBI single made it 3-0 in the sixth, and Cabrera's eighth homer put New York ahead 4-0 in the seventh. Derek Jeter added a run-scoring single with two outs in the ninth.
With his 158th win as a Yankee, Pettitte passed Waite Hoyt for eighth on the club's career list. ... Indians DH Travis Hafner jogged for the first time "at about 50 or 60 percent" since jamming his knee on a slide into second base in Chicago. With more rehab on Monday, he's hoping to be ready for Tuesday's home game against Detroit. ... Guidry was ejected by plate umpire Tim McClelland before the top of the eighth. ... Yankees C Jorge Posada did not return as expected and sat out his third game with a sore neck. ... Cabrera's career-high hitting streak is at 17 games. ... Maybe Cleveland's home should be renamed Jeter's Field. His .383 career average (74-for-193) at the Jake is the highest for any player since the ballpark opened in 1994.