Chien-Ming Wang had little to work with, and the brightest stars of the Yankees lineup went dark as New York slogged through an underwhelming 12-3 defeat to the Indians, dropping Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday.
Managing just four hits in all -- and none off the bats of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada or Hideki Matsui -- the Yankees lost for the first time to Cleveland this season, adding unwanted emphasis to every inning ahead in the best-of-five ALDS.
"We need to get a win back for it," said outfielder Johnny Damon. "Three losses and we're heading home. It would be too tough to overcome a deficit of 2-0 against this team."
The game appeared to have early momentum in the Yankees' direction, as Damon hit a controversial home run to open the game and watched a reversed call work in his favor, but any good luck quickly turned as Wang, the Yankees' Game 1 starter in two consecutive playoff series, turned in one of his worst outings of the season.
Working on seven days' rest, the 27-year-old right-hander allowed eight runs and nine hits in a rocky 4 2/3-inning start. Wang walked four and struck out two, allowing a pair of home runs and later lamenting sinkers that didn't sink and sliders that flopped flat.
"I feel today wasn't good," Wang said. "Maybe I worked too quick."
Yankees manager Joe Torre had entertained the idea of bringing Wang back on short rest to pitch what could be a pivotal Game 4, and he insisted that he had not been dissuaded. But certainly, in any grand plan, the Yankees expected a much better performance.
"I'm not afraid of Wang pitching against Cleveland again," Torre said. "He didn't pitch his game tonight. You know, you win 19 games in this league, you certainly earn it. I'm certainly not going to shy away from him pitching again."
Up by a run before he even touched the ball, Wang could do little with the lead, allowing three runs in the bottom of the first. That was the last of any advantage the Yankees would see against AL Cy Young Award candidate C.C. Sabathia, their offense clocking out fairly early as the Tribe seemed intent on pitching around probable AL Most Valuable Player Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez walked twice, once intentionally, and popped out in four at-bats in his first October action since his 1-for-14 postseason against the Tigers last year. The two outs made him 3-for-41 without an RBI in the playoffs since 2005, but A-Rod said that if the Indians keep making him pass the baton, he'll just wait to be driven in.
"I think it's important for me to just swing at strikes and stay patient," Rodriguez said. "The more I get on base, I'll keep trust in the guys behind me."
On Thursday, Rodriguez would be left waiting all night. Meanwhile, with former Yankees outfielder Kenny Lofton in the middle of a memorable three-hit, four-RBI evening, New York's pitching came completely unraveled in a five-run fifth inning.
Victor Martinez blasted a two-run homer off Wang with one out in the fifth to increase Cleveland's advantage to 6-3, slugging the first offering of his at-bat over the right-center-field wall as pitching coach Ron Guidry and Posada pleaded with Wang to lower his pitches.
"His pitches were up in the zone, and we had no slider," Posada said. "We mainly tried to get him to throw the two-seamer down, and most of the pitches were up in the zone.
"He got better and better, and then everything went south afterward. It seemed like his arm was dragging a little bit, and I was trying to get him on top of the ball and talked to him a lot. He was just trying to do too much."
Jhonny Peralta stroked a broken-bat double to right, and Lofton followed by shooting Wang's 94th and final pitch up the middle for an RBI single. Casey Blake later popped a two-run double down the right-field line off rookie Ross Ohlendorf, opening up a six-run Indians lead.
Travis Hafner also reached Ohlendorf, who made the roster over veteran left-hander Ron Villone, for a solo home run in the sixth.
"My fastball was just up and missed a little bit more than I should have," Ohlendorf said. "Jorge said I wasn't finishing off my pitches."
The Yankees touched Sabathia for three runs in five innings, executing consciously to work his pitch count high -- he threw 114 -- and get him out of the game early.
"I thought it was exactly the game plan we wanted to execute," Rodriguez said. "We were very patient in not only the first inning, but the first five innings were great. Sabathia is a Cy Young contender, and he made his pitches when he had to."
Because of that, New York missed numerous opportunities, most strikingly a blown bases-loaded chance in the fifth. After Damon's home run -- the second leadoff homer of his postseason career and the first home run to lead off a playoff series in Major League history -- and Robinson Cano's fourth-inning solo shot, the Yankees could not take advantage of six walks (one intentional) that Sabathia issued -- none of the six runners scored.
New York brought in an additional run on Abreu's opposite-field double in the fifth to close to within one run, but it left the bases juiced as Sabathia came back from a 3-0 count to strike out Posada and induced Matsui -- now 0-for-12 in his career against Sabathia -- to pop out, ending the inning and preserving the lead.
Torre confirmed that the catcher had the green light to swing away in that situation.
"Probably the best pitch I got to hit was that 3-0, and I fouled it off," Posada said. "It was tough to lay off -- kind of borderline up."
New York's most lopsided postseason defeat in six years was the fourth consecutive loss for the Yankees, who logged a victory in Game 1 of last season's ALDS against the Tigers before dropping the final three games to bow out earlier than anticipated.
"With what we had to deal with pretty much all year, especially since early on when we dug a hole for ourselves, we understood that we certainly can't feel sorry for ourselves," Torre said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.