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Yanks back in Cleveland, sans midges

Yanks back in Cleveland, sans midges

The last time the Yankees visited Cleveland, it was this past October for an American League Division Series, and on an uncommonly warm evening, a swarm of midges descended off Lake Erie and ushered in what turned out to be the beginning of the end of the Joe Torre era.

The annoying gnats seemed to mercilessly attack rookie right-hander Joba Chamberlain during the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 2. And by the time the inning was over, Chamberlain had become unglued.

The Tribe won the game, 2-1, in 11 innings to take what turned out to be an insurmountable 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series that ended in four games three nights later at Yankee Stadium.

The two teams will have four chances to make some more history when they meet on successive days at Progressive Field, beginning on Friday night.

"It's definitely a tough one to take, and you never make an excuse for not doing your job," said Chamberlain, who had just become Mariano Rivera's setup guy a month earlier. "To put it in perspective of the year, it didn't sour it. It definitely made me work harder, to come back and be better. The only regret I have is that Joe [was criticized] for not stopping the game. It's not his [fault]. That was on me. That's my only regret as far as that goes."

Torre was criticized for not pulling his team off the field or asking home plate umpire Bruce Froemming for a stop in the action.

Yankees players were sprayed down with bug repellent before and during the inning. As play ensued, shortstop Derek Jeter continuously swatted at the bugs with his glove and third baseman Alex Rodriguez used his hat to unsuccessfully brush them away.

Chamberlain was infested with the critters, which lit on his eyes and neck. At one point, Torre had to come to the mound. Chamberlain was so distracted, he threw a pair of wild pitches, including the one that plated Grady Sizemore with the tying run.

"They were bad, and it was annoying for a while. Everyone could see that. You just have to fight through it and go from there," Sizemore said at the time.

"You hate it. It's a shame that the [bug] situation was going on out there, because Joba was so solid in the seventh to bail me out," said that night's Yankees starter, Andy Pettitte, who held the Indians in check on seven hits and no runs until he was yanked with one out in the seventh. "That's just a serious situation for a pitcher to come in. I'm not trying to make excuses for him, but obviously it was affecting him."

By the time the Yankees returned home and won Game 3 of the series, principal owner George Steinbrenner had placed Torre on the hot plate for the team's performance in the series, saying that the Yanks had to ascend to the next round for Torre to keep his job.

Before and after their loss in Game 4, the story was Torre's future rather than the fact that the Indians had upended the Yankees and were moving on to play the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series. The Indians squandered a 3-1 lead and lost that series in seven games.

"We knew we had a good-enough team," said Yanks left fielder Johnny Damon, whose three-run homer helped win Game 3. "We'd handled Cleveland well all season and we just didn't get the job done. We know what we need to do right. We got over it. Anytime a team wins and your team doesn't, you're definitely upset."

A few weeks later, Torre was gone, declining to accept a one-year offer to return for a significant cut in guaranteed pay. He was replaced by Joe Girardi and that is, in fact, the most significant change in either the Yankees or Indians as they prepare again to meet this weekend.

"They've got a lot of great players," Indians first baseman Ryan Garko said about the Yankees. "It will be fun. You always want to play the best teams. It's a good measuring stick, especially a four-game series. It's a longer series. It will be good to see how we do."

C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona are the Tribe's best pitchers, while Chien-Ming Wang and Pettitte still anchor the Yankees' starting rotation. Rivera is back as the lights-out closer, with six saves in six opportunities. Sabathia, who bested Wang in a Game 1 thrashing last October, are slated to go against each other on Sunday.

Pettitte is slated to start on Friday night, while Carmona will miss the series.

And, of course, there's Chamberlain, this time definitely sans Torre and probably the midges.

"To be honest with you, it didn't take that long [to get over the incident] because I knew I might have to pitch the next game," Chamberlain said. "You try to have a short-term memory. It's something that's always brought up now and they make [ESPN] commercials and everything.

"You know what? You look at it and it prepares you for everything. Of all the situations that can come about, that's probably the weirdest one you can think of. It just prepares me."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. Anthony Castrovince and Bryan Hoch contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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