The battle of the bullpens will be a major theme if the Indians and New York Yankees meet in next week's Division Series. Most of the season, New York's relievers have been much better. The tables turned Tuesday.
The Cleveland trio of Paul Shuey, Alvin Morman and Jose Mesa combined to retire the last nine New York hitters in the Indians' 10-9 win. Three Yankees -- Hideki Irabu, Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson -- gave up four runs on five hits and walked two over the final two innings.
"They pitched better than we did the first five innings, but we did the job the last four," Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said. "Our guys kept us close and gave us a chance."
While much was made of Cleveland's 0-62 record when trailing after eight innings during postgame rehashes, the Yankees were 78-5 when leading after eight -- and four of the losses were in April and May.
Closer Mariano Rivera, who entered the game tied for the American League lead with 43 saves, pitched Saturday and Sunday against Toronto and sat this one out. It was left to Nelson, who was just 2 for 7 in save opportunities but had a solid 2.69 earned run average while making a franchise-record 75 appearances.
"I made good pitches. They just went down and got them," Nelson said. "I give them credit."
Irabu gave up two runs in 1 1/3 innings, including a solo home run to David Justice. He's 4-4 with a 7.63 earned run average in 12 games this year, not the kind of numbers owner George Steinbrenner envisioned when he made his $12.8 million gamble on the ex-Japanese League star.
Irabu is not likely to make the Yankees' playoff roster, especially since the bullpens will be preserved by an off day after each of the first two games of the Division Series.
Bisons fans certainly loved the Indians' June trade of Chad Curtis for pitcher David Weathers, but it hasn't been a good one for Cleveland at the major-league level.
Weathers, who won the deciding game of both of Buffalo's playoff series earlier this month, was the only Cleveland reliever hit hard Tuesday. He gave up two runs in the sixth and is 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA in eight games for Cleveland this year.
Curtis, meanwhile, was a savior in the Yankees outfield when Bernie Williams missed nearly a month due to hamstring trouble. Curtis is hitting .288 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs.
The series continues tonight at 7:05 with New York's Dwight Gooden (8-5, 4.94) meeting Cleveland's Brian Anderson (4-1, 3.68), one of several ex-Bisons expected to see action the next five days as the Indians give regulars some rest.
Cleveland's playoff rotation is expected to be Orel Hershiser, Charles Nagy and rookie Jaret Wright. Gooden is facing an uphill battle to unseat David Wells (15-10, 4.31) for the Yankees' third slot behind David Cone and Andy Pettitte.
Wright (8-3, 4.33) was scheduled to pitch tonight, but will likely be held out of the series with the title now clinched. He has never faced New York and most Cleveland insiders hope that will be a big advantage for him in the playoffs.