CLEVELAND -- The New York Yankees executed their game plan brilliantly, taking pitch after pitch, exhausting Cleveland Indians' ace C.C. Sabathia so thoroughly that he lasted only five innings.
The Yankees still got clobbered. The Indians celebrated their first playoff game in six years by routing the Yankees, 12-3, with Kenny Lofton as homecoming king.
Lofton, who played on the Indians' 1995 World Series team and received the loudest ovations of any player, drove in four runs, collected three hits and stole a base. Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Ryan Garko homered, and the Indians won Thursday's first game in the best-of-five American League division series.
"It didn't look good," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said.
The Yankees had not lost such a lopsided postseason game since Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, when Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks whipped New York, 15-2. Andy Pettitte, who started that game for the Yankees, starts tonight for New York.
The Yankees need to win three of the next four games to advance, with Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina as scheduled starters. That would have been a better bet for the Yankees five years ago.
But that was then and this is now, so outfielder Johnny Damon called today's game a must-win.
"We definitely have to come out and score more runs than them," Damon said. "It's always tough when you fall behind two games to none."
On Thursday, they started their ace, Chien-Ming Wang. The Indians ripped him for eight runs in 4 2/3 innings.
The Yankees tried to get him off the hook with their trademark patience. In the first four innings, Sabathia faced 18 batters, with one swinging at the first pitch.
That would be Alex Rodriguez, who popped up. The Yankees had five hits in all, so they could not pin this playoff defeat solely on their third baseman, but still he is hitless in his last 14 postseason at-bats and homerless in his last 46 postseason at-bats.
In the fifth inning, the Yankees closed the score to 4-3 on Bobby Abreu's double -- and Sabathia's 100th pitch. The Indians then walked Rodriguez intentionally, loading the bases with one out.
Sabathia fell behind Jorge Posada 3-0, one ball from forcing home the tying run. But the Cy Young hopeful roared back to strike out Posada on a 96-mph fastball and get Hideki Matsui to pop up.
"When things are getting a little crazy, that's when you need to be the coolest cat in the house," Cleveland Manager Eric Wedge said. "When you have that type of ability, and you've had the year and the career he's had, there's every reason for him to be that confident and to show that poise out there."
As the crowd roared, Sabathia slammed his fist in his glove -- once, twice, three times. He was done, at 114 pitches, and he knew it. He had walked six, tying a career high. But he won.
The Indians ensured that by scoring five times in the bottom of the fifth -- two on a home run by Martinez, one on a single by Lofton, two more on a double by Casey Blake. They poured on two more in the sixth, on a home run by Hafner and a double by Lofton.
The Cleveland bullpen overpowered the Yankees from there, with rookies Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis and veteran Rafael Betancourt combining for six strikeouts in four shutout innings.
History offers the Yankees a silver lining. They have lost the first game of a division series five times, and they have come back to win the series each time.
That might thrill just one resident of Cleveland -- LeBron James, the NBA superstar who grew up nearby but roots for the Yankees. The Jacobs Field video board showed him in the early innings, smiling and proudly wearing his Yankees cap, and the crowd responded with mild jeering.
In the eighth inning, with the rout on, the board showed a fan waving this sign: "LeBron: It's Not Too Late to Change Ur Hat."