Insects a nuisance at ALDS
Swarm of small bugs pays unwelcome visit to Jacobs Field
CLEVELAND -- Casey Blake seemed to know what was coming as reporters swarmed around his locker following Cleveland's 2-1 victory in 11 innings over the Yankees Friday night during Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
Just an hour or so earlier, a large group of bugs had the same sort of swarming effect on Jacobs Field.
They were a group of bugs clearly partial to the hometown Indians, as they began to appear during Doug Mientkiewicz's at-bat in the top of the eighth and arrived in full force when Joba Chamberlain took the mound in the bottom of the frame.
But the sixth straight question concerning the attack of the midges even gave the affable Blake pause for thought. After all, the Indians did just move one win away from the American League Championship Series, and the focus was on a bunch of gnats?
"I mean, what kind of a story are we writing here," said Blake with a wry smile, drawing a laugh from the assembled reporters.
"They seemed to be bothering [the Yankees] so much, I tried to show it wasn't bothering me," Blake added. "It wasn't terrible, but there were a lot of bugs for a while."
Blake's words provide the essence for this latest chapter of "When annoying bugs attack." The Indians went about business as if nothing out of the ordinary was taking place, pretty much how they have adeptly handled the first two games of this playoff encounter.
New York, meanwhile, temporarily became a bit unglued. Players were sprayed down with Off before the inning, with shortstop Derek Jeter swatting at the nuisances using his glove, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez using his hat to move them away.
Chamberlain looked as if he was conducting some sort of entomology experiment with the 20 or so bugs perched on his neck. They provided more than just a physical distraction, though, as the hard-throwing right-hander, rushing fastballs to the plate at 98 mph, threw two wild pitches to bring home Grady Sizemore with the game-tying run.
According to crew chief Bruce Froemming, who spoke to a pool reporter after the game, stopping action because of the bugs never was under consideration. It certainly wasn't necessary in the collective minds of the Indians players.
"I've seen bugs and mosquitoes since I started umpiring," Froemming said. "It might not be a perfect scenario. Within 45 minutes, basically, they were gone."
"They were bad, and it was annoying for a while. Everyone could see that," Sizemore said. "You just have to fight through it and go from there."
"The other guys on the Yankees were acting like there were bullets flying around their heads, not gnats," Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko added. "I mean ... this is the big leagues."
Although the Yankees certainly weren't happy adding a bunch of unwelcome visitors to this already hostile environment, they certainly didn't place much blame for the loss on the little creatures.
"You hate it. It's a shame that the [bug] situation was going on out there, because Joba was so solid in the seventh to bail me out," Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte said. "That's just a serious situation for a pitcher to come in. I'm not trying to make excuses for him, but obviously it was affecting him."
"There were a lot of bugs everywhere, and I've never seen anything like it," Rodriguez added. "But it's certainly not an excuse -- we have to be able to go out and play with anything."
A reporter for Friday's broadcast on TBS identified the bugs as Canadian Soldiers, but apparently they were smaller. Since these bugs weren't looking for food, and probably had come from nearby Lake Erie in search of moisture, the bug spray actually had very little effect on getting rid of the pests. According to the Associated Press, in a game taking place against the Angels at Jacobs Field in September 2004, play was stopped several times after players complained of swallowing the bugs while running the bases. The situation played out very similar on Friday, with the bugs ending up in players' mouths, eyes, noses ...
"They were in any hole you can find," said Sizemore with a smile.
"I've never worn glasses in a night game in my life, and I wore them tonight," Mientkiewicz added. "It was annoying. They were in my eyes and my nose. I bent to pick up a ball and ate about four or them on the way down. It was very strange."
As Garko added, though, the bug attack basically is just part of baseball, where something new happens almost every night. For example, after watching Travis Hafner rip a game-winning, bases-loaded single in the 11th inning Friday, Blake probably never thought he would be turning Mr. Wizard and talking about the gestation process of these midges.
"This has to be the latest hatch ever in the history of Cleveland," Blake said. "It has to be a certain temperature probably for it to happen."
But Blake couldn't escape to New York and return to baseball without one more bug question. How would he describe this particular class of insect?
"What did they look like?" said Blake with a slightly incredulous, but amused, look. "They looked like small Pterodactyls. I don't know. They were there for a while and then they were gone."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.