CLEVELAND - These were truly sacrifice flies.
Swarming bugs, millions and millions of them, bombarded the New York Yankees at the worst possible time Friday night, covering and rattling rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain and helping the Cleveland Indians to a 2-1 win in 11 innings and a two-game lead in their AL playoff series.
“It’s like somebody let them go,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “Just when you think you’ve seen it all — that’s home-field advantage.”
Midges 1, Yankees 0.
Where was the Sultan of Swat when they needed him?
Travis Hafner hit a bases-loaded, RBI single with two outs in the 11th to score Kenny Lofton as the Indians, who trailed 1-0 before the flying pests invaded in the eighth inning, won a game their fans will never forget.
Unreal. Surreal. Hitchcockian. Call it whatever you’d like. October baseball has rarely witnessed something like this.
At times, it was like watching a low-budget, late-night horror flick: “The Bugs Who Ate The Yankees.”
And for some reason they feasted on Chamberlain, who stood on the mound struggling to see catcher Jorge Posada’s target as the tiny pests buzzed around his head. As some of them stuck to his muscular, sweaty neck and back, Chamberlain threw a wild pitch in the eighth that gave Cleveland the tying run.
Three innings later, the Indians won it and swarmed Hafner like their little helpers did to the Yanks.
“They bugged me,” Chamberlain said. “But you’ve got to deal with it.”
Umpire crew chief Bruce Froemming said he never considered stopping the game, which will surely go down as one of the strangest in postseason history.
“It was just a little irritation,” he said. “We’ve had bugs before. I’ve seen bugs and mosquitoes since I started umpiring. It might not be a perfect scenario. Within about 45 minutes, basically they were gone.
“There was just about a 10-minute period where everybody was lathering up,” he said.
By the end of the night, the Indians were celebrating and heading to New York looking for a sweep.
“I don’t feel safe at all, though,” first baseman Ryan Garko said. “I mean, it’s the Yankees.”
Lofton, a gnat-like nuisance to the Yankees — one of his many former teams — so far in this series, walked on four pitches to lead off the 11th against Luis Vizcaino. Franklin Gutierrez failed twice to get down a sacrifice before hitting a single.
Casey Blake moved the runners up with a bunt before the Yankees walked Grady Sizemore to load the bases. Rookie Asdrubal Cabrera missed his chance at being a hero by popping up right in front of the plate, but Hafner, who has struggled all season, delivered.
Cleveland’s designated hitter lined a single on a 3-2 pitch to right-center — making the Indians just 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position — and was mobbed by his teammates as an exhausted crowd of 44,732 towel-waving fans celebrated a win they’ll talk about for years to come.
One day after the Indians slugged their way to a 12-3 win, Fausto Carmona and the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte put pitching back into the series.
New York finished with just three hits, all off Carmona during his nine spectacular innings. Rafael Perez went two innings for the win.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Until the first pitch, everyone will talking about the bugs.
“It was like blankets of stuff out there,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
Chamberlain, the wildly popular 22-year-old, came in for Pettitte in the seventh with runners at first and second. He struck out pinch-hitter Gutierrez and got Blake on a soft fly to right to keep the Yankees up 1-0.
That’s when everyone started buggin’ out.
Chamberlain needed to be sprayed with repellant before taking the mound in the eighth as the pesky insects descended upon the ballpark on another muggy fall night. Chamberlain wasn’t alone, either, as Alex Rodriguez, Jeter and the rest of the Yankees infielders fanned their gloves and waved their caps to keep the little critters off.
Chamberlain walked Grady Sizemore to open the eighth and threw a wild pitch before asking for another dose of spray. Plate umpire Laz Diaz, who also was under attack, consented and watched as Chamberlain held out his arms as if he was going through an airport security scan as a trainer sprayed him down.
“There’s not much you can do about it,” Torre said. “He was having trouble seeing out there. Unfortunately, it was a bad time.”
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