CLEVELAND — The series opener with the high-profiled New York Yankees brought everyone out on Friday night — a sellout crowd of 41,675 fans at Jacobs Field that included Cavaliers star LeBron James and his posse.
Everyone but the Indians’ offense.
Indians hitters remained locked in the collective funk that has plagued them for nearly a month, and that rendered starting pitcher Fausto Carmona defenseless against the red-hot Yankees, who hung a 6-1 loss on Cleveland.
New York, which improved to a major league-best 21-8 since the All-Star break by winning for the ninth time in 11 games, built an early lead against Carmona and was never threatened as its pitching staff shut down the sagging Indian offense.
“I felt like the last couple nights we showed signs of coming out of it,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team is batting .225 (137-for-608), while averaging 3.4 runs over its last 18 games and scoring two runs or fewer 10 times over the span. “Today was probably a step back in that regard.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been consistent offensively. We’ve got multiple guys that are kind of off their game offensively.”
Cleveland, 13-15 in the second half, lost for the fourth time in seven games, but did not lose ground in the Central Division standings, still owning a 11/2-game lead over the second-place Tigers. The Indians, one of the majors’ best teams at home for much of the season, have lost nine of their last 12 at Jacobs Field.
Playing without designated hitter Travis Hafner (strained hamstring, inflammation in left knee) for the second straight night, the Indians managed just four hits — all coming off rookie right-hander Phil Hughes, who entered his fourth big league start with a 1-1 record and 5.87 ERA.
Hughes shut out Cleveland on two hits through the first four innings, getting the win after allowing just a run, while striking out six through six innings.
“Sometimes you have to give those guys credit,” said Indians first baseman Ryan Garko, who walked once and flew out twice in three at-bats against Hughes. “Phil pitched well. He was hitting his spots all night. Obviously, I think we could have done a little more.”
Hughes retired 12 of the 13 hitters he faced from the last out of the first to the second out of the fifth before Josh Barfield put the only blemish on his line with a solo home run to right-center.
“He was impressive tonight,” Wedge said of Hughes. “I still think it’s more about us. We still need to a better job.”
Wedge will get no argument from Carmona, who though he wasn’t as dominant as he has been much of the year, was still effective enough to earn a win in his first career appearance against the Yankees.
Carmona, who disgustedly fired a towel into a bin before leaving without talking to reporters, allowed four runs on eight hits through seven innings. The right-hander has lost his last three starts despite surrendering just seven earned runs in 21 innings.
“He’s nasty,” said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who had two of New York’s hits off Carmona. “He’s not fun to face. We were fortunate enough to score a few runs off him.”
Jeter drove in New York’s final run off Carmona with a two-out single in the fifth that put the Yanks in front 4-0.
The Yankees played without manager Joe Torre, who was serving a one-game suspension stemming from the bench-clearing incident with Toronto on Tuesday.
It didn’t deter the Bronx Bombers, who entered the game leading the majors in practically every statistical category, both offensively and pitching.
The Yanks struck early against Carmona, with Alex Rodriguez hitting career homer No. 501 to lead off the second — a solo blast to straightaway center on a 1-0 fastball.
They scored another run in the second and went up 3-0 in the third on a fielder’s choice grounder from Bobby Abreu that scored Johnny Damon. The Yanks extended the advantage with two runs in the eighth off reliever Aaron Fultz.
While the Indians didn’t get much relief from their bullpen, New York got plenty, with the twosome of Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera holding Cleveland hitless over the final three innings.
Chamberlain pitched two scoreless innings, striking out four of the six batters he faced.
The Indians are in the midst of one of their worst stretches of the season, but there is no panic in the Cleveland clubhouse yet.
“You just have to keep plugging away,” Garko said. “It’s been a little tough stretch for us. The clock’s not running out on us until we’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Hopefully that won’t happen until … ever.
“I look at it like we’re playing this bad and we’ve still gained a game on Detroit. I think of it as a gift more than a negative thing.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 653-0899 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. New York
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Byrd (10-4, 4.13 ERA) vs. Mussina (7-7, 4.66)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WTAM 1100-AM