NEW YORK — There will be no Game 5 of the Division Series for the Indians, just Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Indians manager Eric Wedge put his faith and his team’s postseason fate in the hands of veteran Wiffle-ball tosser Paul Byrd on Monday night at Yankee Stadium, and the right-hander didn’t let him or the Indians down.
Refusing to buckle and start C.C. Sabathia in Game 4, Wedge emerged smelling like a genius and doused in champagne, as Byrd helped the Indians to a 6-4 victory that clinched the Division Series.
The win advances Cleveland to the ALCS for the first time since 1998, while the heralded Yankees bowed out in the first round of the postseason for the third straight year.
“It was amazing, what we did here,” Wedge said. “To beat a great team on the road like this. … We’re very happy.”
The 36-year-old Byrd, who had been bombed in his only regular-season start against New York, held the vaunted Yankee lineup in check long enough for his offense and bullpen to pick him up.
He allowed just two runs on eight hits through five innings, leaving with his team in front 6-2 after allowing a leadoff homer to Robinson Cano in the sixth.
“I told my wife, ‘I think I’m a pretty big underdog,”’ Byrd said. “But we’ve got confidence in each other. It’s just a blast.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Paul Byrd,” said Indians third baseman Casey Blake. “That’s a tough situation to come up big in, and he did exactly what he needed to do.”
New York’s experiment with a starter on short rest did not go well.
Game 1 pitcher Chien-Ming Wang came back in an attempt to rescue the Yanks from elimination, but instead paved the way for the ouster by allowing four runs on five hits and failing to make it out of the second inning.
Wang was greeted by a home run from Grady Sizemore on his third pitch of the game, and it got worse from there, with the Indians scoring one more in the first on Jhonny Peralta’s RBI single and loading the bases with two hits and a hit batter in the second before Yanks manager Joe Torre came to the mound with the hook.
It is unlikely that Torre will be back as manager, with owner George Steinbrenner issuing an ultimatum during the series that the New York skipper the past 12 seasons would not return if the Yankees did not advance to the ALCS.
“First of all, I want to congratulate Eric Wedge,” said Torre, who has taken the Yankees to 12 consecutive playoff appearances in 12 seasons. “He really turned that team around.
“They were tough. You make a mistake and they beat your brains in. And that’s what happened to us.”
Unlike Sunday in Game 3, New York’s replacement pitcher didn’t shut the Indians down, with Mike Mussina pitching well enough, but allowing two runs over 4 2/3 innings, as Cleveland built its lead to 6-1 through five on Victor Martinez’s two-run single.
Like their first chance to clinch the series in Game 3 on Sunday, the Indians grabbed the early lead. Only this time, they didn’t surrender it.
Not that there weren’t some anxious moments as the Yankees clawed their way back.
The Indians stopped scoring after the fourth, but New York inched closer on a solo shot from Alex Rodriguez off Rafael Perez in the seventh to pull within 6-3 and turn up the heat.
It got no hotter than the ninth inning with the entrance of Cleveland closer Joe Borowski, who brought New York baggage with him after a much-publicized April implosion at Yankee Stadium.
Borowski allowed his obligatory run on a towering one-out homer to right field from Bobby Abreu — New York’s third of the game.
But after retiring Rodriguez on a fly ball to right for the second out and allowing Jorge Posada to hit a long drive just to the right of the right-field foul pole, Borowski struck out the Yankee catcher to end the game.
After Posada swung through an 0-2 offering, Indians players left the dugout and mobbed Borowski on the mound.
“It’s exciting,” Sizemore said. “This is a close group of guys. This is what you dream about. We believed we could do it.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland at Boston
WHAT: Game 1, American League Championship Series
WHEN: Friday, 7:10 p.m.
WHERE: Fenway Park, Boston
TV/RADIO: Channel 8; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WKNR 850-AM