CLEVELAND -- The Indians were confronted with their past in the midst of this fight for their future.
On Friday night, a familiar face opposed this Cleveland club that is trying to find its footing for the final six weeks of this season. Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, traded away by the Tribe four years ago at the onset of the last rebuilding period, handled his former employer with ease in a 3-1 loss for the Indians.
It was the last thing Cleveland fans needed right now: a 290-pound reminder of the past sending the local nine to a ninth consecutive loss. Sabathia came off the disabled list after a bout with an elbow issue and shut the Indians down over 7 1/3 innings, outpitching rookie starter Corey Kluber in the process.
"I liked the energy. I liked how we fought," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "But, still, you need to execute better in order to score runs."
The Indians loaded the bases twice in the game -- first against Sabathia in the fifth inning and later against closer Rafael Soriano in the ninth -- but the club came up empty at both turns. That was the fight that Acta mentioned. What Cleveland lacked, however, was a knockout punch.
The loss was the 22nd in the past 26 games for the Indians (54-71), who also suffered an 11-game losing streak earlier this month. This marks the first time in the franchise's 112-year history that Cleveland has had two losing streaks of at least nine games in a single season, and the two slides have come within the past 27 days.
It has been mentally draining for the men inside Cleveland's clubhouse.
"Yeah, but I think we're handling it well," Indians rookie Cody Allen said. "We're trying to put innings together, at-bats together. It's just not happening. It's going to happen. We're a resilient group. But, it's tough. You go 1-8 on the road. Last time you go 0-9 on the road. Then you come back home, you want to win.
"The fans are out there, expecting to see a show. We're just struggling to find ways to win right now."
The incredible collapse has left the Indians searching for answers.
Before the game, general manager Chris Antonetti met with the media to discuss the situation. He emphasized the fact that the Indians have more than a month remaining to piece together a strong finish. Over that period, Cleveland will begin its evaluation for what steps need to be taken in the offseason.
The starting rotation was the primary culprit during the 11-game slump, which fell one loss shy of the longest losing streak in team history. Lately, the bigger problem for Cleveland has been its offense. Over the past five games, the Indians have managed only six runs, including just one in each of the last three games.
The Tribe went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on Friday night.
"We had chances offensively," Acta said. "We just weren't able to capitalize."
Sabathia set down the first 10 hitters he faced and lasted into the eighth inning, picking up nine strikeouts along the way.
"I pitched pretty good," Sabathia said. "Just to be able to be crisp and give us a chance to win is all I was looking for, and it worked out. We got a win."
The Tribe's lone run against Sabathia (13-3) came in the fourth inning, when Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera launched a solo home run -- his 14th blast of the season -- over the wall in center field. On the previous pitch, Sabathia fired a fastball that flew behind Cabrera's legs, prompting a warning to each club from home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth.
The warning came due to an errant pitch from Kluber earlier in the game.
Sabathia's actions were likely interpreted as retaliation for Kluber hitting Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in the helmet with one out in the second. After hitting Jeter, Kluber walked off the mound and stood in front of home plate, watching closely as the angry shortstop headed to first base while being checked by trainers.
"Of course you're angry," Jeter said. "No one wants to get hit in the head. It's kind of a dangerous area, so of course I was upset. It's over with, it's done with, it's history now."
Acta was not upset by Sabathia's response.
"That's part of the game. Heat of the moment," Acta said. "I understand Derek or them not being happy with Kluber hitting him on the head. I think everybody pretty much knows that he wasn't doing that on purpose. But, that's how the game is played.
"CC deserves credit. At least he didn't throw at his head. He did what he had to do. It's part of the game, and we're moving on."
Kluber loaded the bases later in the second inning but escaped damage. The rookie right-hander flirted with trouble throughout his five innings -- only flinching in the first. Jeter and Nick Swisher opened the game with back-to-back doubles, pushing the American League East-leading Yankees (73-52) to a quick 1-0 lead.
From there, Kluber settled in and gave Cleveland a decent enough outing.
"Everything got better as the game went on," Kluber said. "I'm just trying to go one pitch at a time and not worry about doing this to prevent that or stuff like that. I'm just trying to execute one pitch at a time and not get ahead of myself."
In the seventh inning, New York pulled away for good after Jeter led off with a single against Allen. The young right-hander had not allowed a run in his first 12 career appearances, but that impressive streak finally came to an end. Swisher saw to that with a two-run home run that put the Indians behind, 3-1.
"It was going to happen," Allen said. "I hate that it happened in a situation like that. I'd rather give up a run in my first outing when we're down 7-1. In a 1-1 ballgame like that, during an eight-game losing streak going in, we need a 'W.'"
Cleveland is hoping one arrives sooner rather than later.
"Eventually," Kluber said, "it's going to turn around."