BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CLEVELAND -- Stop the presses. Hold the phone. Cork the champagne. Pencil out the parade.
A funny thing has happened to the New York Yankees on their way to everlasting immortality: They have moved closer to elimination than coronation. The winningest team in 90 years was bludgeoned Friday by the Cleveland Indians, 6-1, and trails the American League Championship Series, two games to one.
This time, the umpires were irrelevant. This time, the breaks had no bearing on the outcome. This time, the Indians pounded on Andy Pettitte as if he were a pinata, while Bartolo Colon stifled baseball's most prolific run machine on four singles.
Bronx Bombers? Not right now. Stealth Bombers is more like it. Since their five-run outburst in the first inning of Game One, the Yankees' offense has been virtually invisible. They have produced four runs in their last 29 innings against Cleveland pitching. "We just got our (butt) kicked tonight," said Yankees manager Joe Torre.
After 114 regular-season victories and a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers, the Yankees have run into an Indians team one year removed from the World Series and entirely unintimidated.
"We knew coming into the series that the Yankees have been the team to beat all year," said Indians first baseman Jim Thome. "Playing against them, you have to bring your game to another level."
The Tribe's level Friday was pretty lofty, and the Indians hit the ball with both attitude and altitude. They hit four home runs off Pettitte -- a career first for the left-hander -- and the Yankee pitcher yielded so many line drives that the ballgame came to resemble batting practice.
Thome homered twice -- tying the game in the second inning, and breaking it open in the fifth -- and Manny Ramirez narrowly missed hitting his second home run of the game by a few inches of center field wall. Mark Whiten also homered and doubled for the Indians in what amounted to a 12-hit attack.
Pettitte was talking to himself as he walked off the mound. He wore the glazed look of a guy emerging from an artillery barrage.
"With Andy Pettitte, you have to be ready," Thome said. "He's around the (strike) zone a lot. Personally, I think they've been trying to establish the fastball inside. Fortunately, I was able to get into some good hitting counts.
"To be honest, I've had a very tough time against their left-handers. To hit the two home runs was nice, but it wasn't on my mind. I was just trying to put the ball in play."
Pettitte had pitched brilliantly in his first playoff start against Texas Rangers, but his stuff was vastly inferior at Jacobs Field. Colon, by contrast, posed a commanding presence after allowing a first-inning run. Thanks to three double plays and the virtuoso work of shortstop Omar Vizquel, Colon pitched to only one batter more than the minimum during the last seven innings.
"I could say we're not hitting and it's true," Torre said. "But I don't want you to think the kid didn't pitch a heck of a ballgame."
Thome's first homer, leading off the Indians' second inning, tied the score at 1-1. Four pitches later, Mark Whiten smashed a double down the left-field line, and an alert was sounded in the Yankees' bullpen.
While Hideki Irabu began warming up -- a misnomer on this chilly night -- Sandy Alomar moved Whiten to third base with a sharp grounder to second base.
Torre brought his infield in with the go-ahead run in such close proximity to the plate, and Enrique Wilson made him pay for it by chopping a single past shortstop Derek Jeter.
The score remained at 2-1 until the Indians homered three times after two were out in the fifth. Suddenly, the best team in baseball was back on its heels.
"They have an awesome lineup," Torre said of the Indians. "They've won a lot of games and can beat people up."
Friday, they made a powerhouse look like a punching bag.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at email@example.com.