- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Dangerously close to getting swept, the New York Yankees woke up just in time to save their season and perhaps Joe Torre’s job.

Johnny Damon lofted a go-ahead, three-run homer in the fifth inning, rookies Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain rescued Roger Clemens and the Yankees rallied past Cleveland 8-4 last night, closing within 2-1 in their first-round AL playoff series.

“I don’t think we’re ready to see Roger Clemens’ last steps off the mound or Joe Torre’s last game,” Damon said. “We have a lot to play for.”

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner blustered Saturday that Torre’s run as manager was in jeopardy of ending after 12 seasons — all concluding with postseason appearances.

“I don’t think we’d take him back if we don’t win this series,” he told the Record of New Jersey.

And it looked grim for Torre and the Yankees when the Indians chased an injured Clemens in the third inning, building a 3-0 lead as Trot Nixon homered and Ryan Garko and Jhonny Peralta drove in runs.

Damon had three hits, drove in four runs and started the comeback with an RBI single in the third off former Yankees pitcher Jake Westbrook. New York, which hadn’t gotten back-to-back hits in the series, then got three straight opposite-field hits from Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera for a run in the fifth.

Damon worked the count to 2-0 against Westbrook and hit the ball on a high arc to right. As it cleared the wall to put the Yankees ahead 5-3, Cano raised both hands in the air down the third-base line and jumped twice. Damon went into a trot, and the crowd of 56,358 leapt with him.

“We know what we have to do. We know who’s the boss around here, and we know how much we love Joe Torre,” Damon said. “We battled. We got some big hits and a big pitching performance from Philip Hughes.”

In a game that mirrored the Yankees’ comeback from a 21-29 start, Cano added a bases-loaded RBI single in the sixth off Aaron Fultz. When a charging Nixon overran the ball in right field for an error, two more runs scored.

This time, there were no bugs to distract Chamberlain, who brought in his 100 mph heat. Bothered by swarms of flying insects at Cleveland in Game 2, he combined with Hughes and Mariano Rivera on 62/3 innings of one-run relief.

“This is a very uncomfortable time of year. It’s an exciting time of year,” Torre said. “You understand there’s no safety net.”

In an unprecedented year of the sweep, all other division series ended in three-game wipeouts. But the Indians, at least for a night, were denied their first trip to the ALCS since 1998.

Paul Byrd will try to close out the series tonight for the Indians, with the Yankees starting Game 1 loser Chien-Ming Wang on three days’ rest for the Yankees.

“I felt like we made a statement in Game 1, and I felt like they made a statement tonight,” Byrd said.

Only four teams have overcome 2-0 deficits in the first round since the playoffs expanded in 1995. Before the game, Torre told his team to think about winning one game, not three.

“Tonight was unbelievable, the crowd behind me,” Hughes said. “It was something I never experienced before.”

With former New York City mayor and current presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani leading the cheering from his front-row seats, Alex Rodriguez stopped his postseason hitless streak at 18 at-bats with a second-inning single and also beat out an infield single. But he remained in a 6-for-54 (.111) playoff funk with no RBI dating to his Game 4 home run against Boston three years ago.

New York, which led the major leagues in scoring with its highest total since 1937, pushed across just four runs — three on solo homers — in the first two games and batted .121.

While the Yankees got the leadoff man on in each of the first three innings, Derek Jeter bounced into double plays in the first and the third and Jorge Posada hit into one in the second. Jeter also made a bad throw that led to the Indians’ first run.

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