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Yankees looking to keep series alive

NEW YORK — The Cleveland Indians could end a few eras Sunday night.

Roger Clemens could be taking the mound for the last time. Alex Rodriguez could be playing his final game in pinstripes. Joe Torre could be managing for his future with the New York Yankees.

Ahead 2-0 in their best-of-five AL division series after swarming the Yankees at the Jake, the youthful Tribe could be starting a run of their own: The Indians need just one win to advance to their first AL championship series since 1998 — and to send the Yankees home without a World Series title for the seventh straight season.

"We're not going to relax at all," Indians first baseman Ryan Garko said. "We just want to put this away."

Cleveland made the playoffs six times in seven years from 1995-2001 and in 1997 was within two outs of its first World Series title since 1948 when Jose Mesa blew a ninth-inning lead in Game 7 against Florida. These Indians are just starting to fathom how far they can go and what it's like to play in October.

"I think we could definitely put together a string of four or five years," said Jake Westbrook, Cleveland's Game 3 starter.

Yankees veterans, bugged by their deficit, like to say they've seen every situation — well, perhaps not the B-movie insect attack of Game 2. They cited their comeback from a 21-29 start this year and an 0-2 deficit against Oakland in 2001's opening round.

"That is the first thing we looked to last night in the clubhouse," Andy Pettitte said. "The first thing that goes through your mind is, you know, we've done this. We can do this. We can pull this off."

They haven't been swept in the playoffs since 1980 but they haven't overcome much in the postseason since their epic collapse from a 3-0 lead against Boston in the 2004 AL championship series, losing 12 of their last 15 playoff games.

"Been there, done that" seems to apply especially for Alex Rodriguez, and not in a good way. He's 0-for-October, hitless in his last 18 postseason at-bats and 4-for-50 with no RBIs in the playoffs since his Game 4 homer against Boston in 2004.

A $252 million man during the regular season, he hasn't been worth $2.52 in the playoffs, striking out three times and hitting three infield popups against the Indians. A-Rod has become A-Wreck once again, and if he threatens to exercise that opt-out clause next month, Yankees fans may respond with a Dirty Harry answer: "Go ahead, make my day."

"We've got to get back home, feed off the energy of the crowd and play Yankee baseball," Rodriguez said after Game 2. "We're better than that."

Doug Mientkiewicz took time Saturday to keep A-Rod's spirits up.

"I've been texting him back and forth this morning to keep his mind right," Mientkiewicz said. "We just need him to be him and then let everybody else do our own thing."

Rodriguez may never make it to the top of the heap in New York, New York, but he's not the only struggling hitter on a team that led the major leagues in scoring but is batting .121 against the Indians: Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui are each 0-for-7, Derek Jeter 1-for-8 and leadoff man Johnny Damon 1-for-9. Baseball's highest-scoring team has four runs in two games — one run and four hits in the last 15 innings — and Torre may start Jason Giambi, thus far a $21 million pinch hitter. New York canceled batting practice Saturday, hoping to break its routine.

Westbrook is quite familiar with Yankee Stadium. He was traded by the Yankees in 2000 as part of the deal that sent David Justice to New York. This year he's 0-2 against them but hopes to follow C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in turning pinstriped lumber to sawdust.

"Just because they struggled in the first two ballgames doesn't mean that they aren't a good-hitting team," he said.

Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, was signed by New York in early May for this type of situation, reappearing with a rock-star introduction from George Steinbrenner's box after agreeing to a deal that paid him $17.4 million. The 45-year-old has 354 regular-season wins and two World Series titles, but he's pitched once since Sept. 3 and not at all since Sept. 16, waylaid by a balky elbow and hamstring.

"I've got a lot of will and desire; doesn't matter my age," Clemens said, his game-face stubble on his cheeks. "If my body feels good or bad, I don't worry about it."

He noticed the list of champions outside Yankee Stadium when he drove in Saturday and was struck by it.

"You see 2000 on there, and it's been a long seven years," he said.

Torre led New York to four World Series titles in his first five seasons, putting himself alongside Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel as iconic Yankees managers. He nearly was fired after last year's debacle against Detroit, is unsigned beyond this season and could be booted following another first-round exit.

Steinbrenner is expected to be at the game for a firsthand look, his first appearance at Yankee Stadium since April. His health apparently in decline, he's been as invisible as the Wizard of Oz — coincidentally, the theme the Yankees picked for this year's rookie hazing.

"When it's all over with, you see where you are and what you've accomplished and what you didn't accomplish, and what you're sorry about and what you're happy about," Torre said. "And then you evaluate."