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10/05/07 12:39 AM ET

Nothing easy for these Yanks

Big loss vs. Tribe in opener has New York in familiar position

CLEVELAND -- After one postseason game, the Yankees are already at critical mass, a point they have come to several times this year already.

They didn't get five innings out of their starting pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang. They had to use two kid relievers to mop up in what turned out to be a disastrous, 12-3, Game 1 loss to the Indians in the American League Division Series at Jacobs Field. And four of the top guys in their batting order -- Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui -- went a combined 0-for-14 with two walks.

It's no way to win a best-of-five series and the Yankees are well aware of it.

"We're going to have come out and play much better tomorrow," said Johnny Damon, who led off the game with a homer down the right-field line, giving his club a 1-0 lead that lasted five batters into the bottom of the first inning. "We better not be panicking. We're still in this thing. Tomorrow we can even it up and head back home. That's what we're looking forward to doing."

Asked if they need better work from their starter in Game 2 on Friday when Andy Pettitte takes the mound against Fausto Carmona, Damon responded simply: "Yes, we do."

It all comes down to good starting pitching and a well-balanced offensive attack. And when the Yanks have it, they usually win. But the season has been one played in crisis mode since injuries and lackluster play resulted in a 21-29 first two months that had them sucking air by Memorial Day.

They're not exactly sucking air right now after losing the first game of the series, but another loss in Game 2 would have them looking down the gullet of trying to win three straight against an Indians team that won 96 games and the tough AL Central running away this season.

"With what we had to deal with pretty much all year, especially since early on when we dug that hole, we understood that we certainly can't feel sorry for ourselves," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "If somebody beats us up, you tip your hat to them and come back the next day. But, again, our success, and most every other team's success, is going to be based on the starting pitcher.

"And we didn't pitch well starting tonight. We certainly need to do a better job, and we expect Andy to do that."

Pettitte is usually the stopper. In 2003, at the end of his first tour of duty with the team, the Yankees went to the World Series, losing the first game of all three postseason series along the way. In Game 2, of the ALDS against the Twins, the AL Championship Series against the Red Sox, and the World Series against the Marlins, Pettitte was the equalizer.

He is again being thrust into that role on Friday. Asked before the game why Torre has consistently used him in that fashion, Pettitte said: "I think he just got comfortable with putting me in that spot."

It's more than comfort. It's the guts, gumption and heart of a left-handed champion, who was a member of the Yankees teams that won four World Series from 1996 to 2000. Pettitte is 14-9 in 34 postseason starts, 30 of them with the Yankees and the other four in 2005, the only year in their history that the Astros went to the World Series.

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Even better, he's 11-5 in the opening two rounds, 5-3 in Division Series play.

After Wang allowed eight runs on nine hits, including a pair of homers, in 4 2/3 innings on Thursday, Pettitte better be the necessary elixir.

"In a short series you've just got to battle every game," Torre said. "They're going to keep fighting. A five-game series is certainly scary. There's no question. But again, you have to play better than the other team. We need to do a better job. They did a better job of just about every aspect of the game than we did."

Starting pitching was one thing. But the offense was another matter, generating just five hits off four Tribe pitchers, including left-hander C.C. Sabathia, who walked six but didn't allow one of them to score.

While the focus is always on Rodriguez, who is 1-for-14 in his past five postseason games dating back to last October, and 3-for-41 without an RBI dating back to 2005, the glare of the headlights shouldn't spare Matsui, either.

Including an 0-for-4 on Thursday night with two strikeouts, Matsui is 4-for-22 with one RBI through the last two postseasons. This year, he's playing with a sore right knee which was recently drained of fluid and may need surgery this offseason. But Torre said he's sticking with him.

"Well, he knocked it in over 100 runs (actually 103)," Torre said with a chuckle. "I hate to have one game change my mind about his ability. He seems to be fine. He can go out and play left field if we needed him to. No excuses tonight. We got our rear ends kicked."

On the positive side, the Yankees won the first game of their last two first-round sets against the Angels and Tigers, respectively, only to lose each series. On the negative, one more game like Thursday night and the Yankees won't need any excuses. They will be beyond critical mass.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.