CLEVELAND -- Before his start at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago, Scott Elarton's knees wobbled and his stomach did a few extra somersaults. That can happen to any visitor in The House That Ruth Built.
"I know that I felt different there," Elarton said. "And I'm a seven-year veteran."
Back at Jacobs Field, Elarton's nerves weren't as jumbled against the powerful New York Yankees.
Elarton contained New York's potent lineup for six innings, leading the Cleveland Indians to a 6-5 win Tuesday night over the Yankees, who couldn't stage their third straight comeback.
Elarton (7-5) allowed three runs and four hits as the Indians won the opener of their three-game series against the Yankees, one of a handful of teams they're battling for the AL wild card.
The Indians lost three of four in New York early in July, and during the series Elarton sensed a few of Cleveland's players were caught up in the Yankees' pinstriped mystique.
"We may have been a little awe-struck," Elarton said. "But we've proven we can play with any team in this league."
Bob Wickman, Cleveland's fourth reliever, retired Derek Jeter on a grounder with a runner at second for his 28th save in 32 attempts.
Ronnie Belliard hit a three-run double off an erratic Al Leiter (1-3), and Victor Martinez homered for Cleveland, which came in 4½ games behind wild-card leader Oakland. The Indians are 34-1 when they score at least six runs.
Alex Rodriguez hit his AL-leading 29th homer, a two-run shot, and Tino Martinez had a solo drive for New York, which trailed 6-1 going into the sixth and nearly came all the way back again.
"Our goal every game is to score six," Rodriguez said. "We just missed. We had a chance with Jeter up, you got to like that."
The Yankees were coming off two straight victories in which they rallied from four runs down in the eighth inning, becoming the first team to do so since the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. They couldn't pull off another one, however, and fell 3½ games behind first-place Boston in the AL East.
"We had too big of a hole to climb out of," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
With New York down 6-1 in the sixth, Gary Sheffield ripped a shot to left that missed being a homer by inches, thudding off the top of the 19-foot-high wall. Coco Crisp quickly got the ball into the infield, holding Sheffield to a long single.
But Crisp couldn't do anything but watch as Rodriguez followed with his homer onto the home run porch in left, bringing New York to 6-3.
The Yankees got an unearned run in the seventh, set up by reliever Arthur Rhodes' first error since June 1, 1998. After Jorge Posada singled, Tino Martinez hit a comebacker that Rhodes gloved but threw away at second for his first error in 417 games.
Rhodes, though, squirmed out of the mess by allowing only Jeter's RBI fielder's choice.
"Arthur did a great job of regrouping," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "The bullpen did a fantastic job -- all four of them."
New York closed to 6-5 in the eighth when Sheffield scored from third on Scott Sauerbeck's wild pitch.
Sauerbeck was trying to throw a curveball to Jason Giambi, but got his hand caught on his jersey and the ball nearly hit the backstop on the fly.
"I didn't want to embarrass myself," Sauerbeck said. "But I guess I did."
Leiter completely lost his control in the third. He walked the bases full on 16 pitches before Belliard unloaded them with a double down the left-field line. Third-base coach Joel Skinner tried to hold up Jose Hernandez, but he ran through Skinner's stop sign as the Indians went up 5-1.
Leiter walked five in his shortest outing since June 8, 2003, with the Mets.
"Walking five in 15 batters, something bad will happen," Leiter said, "and it did."
Torre said LHP Randy Johnson will be moved back until Saturday with RHP Aaron Small opening a three-game set in Toronto on Friday. ... Wickman has converted 20 straight saves at home. ... Belliard is batting .364 (20-for-55) with 52 RBI in his career with the bases loaded. ... The Yankees declined their 2006 option on CF Bernie Williams, a five-time All-Star and vital part of four World Series champions in New York. "They did what they felt they had to do," said Williams, who would have made $15 million next season. ... Indians DH Travis Hafner went 0-for-4 and was hit by a pitch during a rehab appearance at Double-A Akron. Hafner, who hasn't played in the majors since getting hit in the face with a pitch on July 16, could be activated Wednesday. ... Elarton is the first Cleveland pitcher to beat the Yankees twice in a season since Charles Nagy in 2001.