10/09/07 3:00 AM ET
Clutch hitting fuels Tribe in ALDS win
Offense shines with two outs and runners in scoring position
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
"During the regular season, we tried to do too much against the Yankees and maybe got caught up in the names we were facing," Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko said. "That just went away in this series. It was amazing. The veterans helped out, but it also comes from the manager."Garko spoke of how the only message from manager Eric Wedge before this series began was "be yourself and do what we've done all year." But talking about such concepts as sticking with a game plan and not trying to do too much seems far too simple of a response for maybe the toughest question in all of sports -- how to hit a baseball. That inquiry becomes even more difficult with the pressure of the playoffs and the added onus of the two-out situations. Garko used his pair of two-out, run-scoring hits as an example. Instead of trying to drive the offerings from Wang or Roger Clemens, in Game 1 and Game 3, respectively, he took each pitch and grounded it back up the middle. Simple game plan, complicated results for New York. "If I would have tried to do too much, I probably would have ended up hitting a ground ball to third," added Garko with a smile. But another bonus comes from these big two-out hits, aside from the obvious contributing factor to earning the franchise's first spot in the ALCS since 1998. The clutch at-bats and extra runs also drove up the Yankees' pitch counts, allowing the Indians to get into the bullpen early and then eventually tiring out said relievers. "Extending out the inning for the opposing pitcher ends up becoming a big thing during the playoffs," Cleveland hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "We went through a tough time in August, when we got away from our approach, and we didn't get a lot of two-strike or two-out hits. It's something we focused on and tried to change in the last month of the season." As Cleveland's victory over New York is recounted in the future, the focus of the tale will fall on the gritty efforts from starters C.C. Sabathia and Paul Byrd and Fausto Carmona's dominance on the mound in his first playoff start. The bullpen wasn't half bad either. For a team hitting .257 with runners in scoring position and two outs in the regular season, its success in these same pressure-packed scenarios ultimately made the difference. The challenge only gets tougher, though, against Boston's group of dominant hurlers. Then again, keeping it simple worked once and might be the solution again.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.