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05/08/08 4:59 PM ET
Homers hurt Tribe's chances in finale
Byrd allows three long balls, Kobayashi one in loss to Yanks
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- It's been a long time since the Indians last swept a three-game series in the Bronx. On Thursday afternoon, the long ball ensured the wait will continue. Starter Paul Byrd served up three home runs and reliever Masa Kobayashi allowed one, as the Indians suffered a 6-3 loss in their final regular-season game at Yankee Stadium. Though the Tribe captured its first outright season series victory over the Yanks with a 4-3 record, the club couldn't capitalize on a chance to complete a sweep here for the first time since April 1989. Byrd, who could not preserve a 3-3 tie in the fifth, took the blame for the missed opportunity. "The home runs killed me," Byrd said. "I just could not get the ball down and away. I couldn't make the pitches. It's frustrating. I thought we had a chance to get on a roll. I really wanted the sweep today, and it just couldn't happen." This matchup of wily veterans Byrd and Mike Mussina led to a briskly played scoreless tie until the bottom of the fourth, when the potent Yankees lineup woke up and scored three quick runs off Byrd. Johnny Damon led the inning off with a solo homer to right. Byrd negated a Derek Jeter single by getting Bobby Abreu to ground into a double play. But after Hideki Matsui singled, Byrd left a fastball up to Jason Giambi, who crushed it out to right to make it 3-0. Byrd, who has served up six homers in two starts against the Yanks this year, has watched Giambi torch him for three of those blasts. "I just cannot get Giambi out this year," Byrd said. "I don't know what it is. If I make the pitch, he hits it. Primarily, everything's been up and in. I haven't been able to make the pitches down and away. He has really hurt me this year." Mussina, who has lost more than a little bit of velocity on his fastball over the years, has also put a hurt on the Tribe this season. On April 28, he held the Indians to a pair of runs over five innings to get a 5-2 victory. This time, Mussina was working quickly and efficiently for four innings, inducing seven easy groundouts along the way. "He's a different pitcher now than he was back in the day," manager Eric Wedge said of Mussina, who topped out around 85 mph. "But like a lot of veteran guys, he finds ways to get you out. I'll tell you one thing, he throws the ball where he wants to throw it." Mussina had the Indians right where he wanted them until the fifth. Ben Francisco was plunked with a pitch and Franklin Gutierrez singled to put runners on the corners. With one out, Casey Blake came through with a double to right to empty the bases. Blake later scored on Kelly Shoppach's ground-ball single through the hole on the left side. By the time the inning was over, the Indians had tied the game at 3 and knocked Mussina out. But they certainly had to work hard to do so, and they were left wondering if they could have or should have gotten to Mussina earlier. "It takes a lot of concentration and sticking to your approach against him," Blake said, "because he's so effective at changing speeds and moving the ball in and out." In the sixth, the Yankees changed pitchers, going to their bullpen. The Indians' bats were never heard from again. "That," Blake said of the pitching change, "was a good move." And by the time that move was made, the Yanks had already regained the lead off Byrd. In the bottom of the fifth, Robinson Cano and Damon both doubled to make it 4-3. In the seventh, Byrd made one final mistake before hitting the showers. He left a pitch up to Cano, who hammered it out to right. All three of Byrd's homers allowed came against left-handed batters, who are known to give the right-hander fits. Eight of the 10 homers he's served up this season have been to lefties. "He's got to keep the ball in the ballpark," Wedge said. "Giambi's had some success against him, and lefties got to him a little bit. Paul's done a good job for us, but the big ball got to him today." It got to Kobayashi, too. Sent in to relieve Byrd after Cano's blast, Kobayashi immediately surrendered a solo shot to Wilson Betemit to make it 6-3, and the Indians never recovered from the long ball barrage. That last sweep in '89, then, was, well, the last sweep for the Indians in "The House That Ruth Built," because, as far as the regular season is concerned, they won't be coming back to this particular building again. "This is a tough place to play," Wedge said. "But when you win the first two, you want to win the last one. That's just the nature of it. We had an opportunity to do that, but it just wasn't happening."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.