Tuesday, October 7, 1997
Indians fans' dreams come true

The Cincinnati Enquirer

CLEVELAND - Some day, Jaret Wright will know what he has done. He will understand the meaning of playoff pressure and ancient rivalries, of The Curse of Rocky Colavito and the excruciating exploits of John Elway.

He will know all this because he will never hear the end of it. Not as long as he lives.

A city synonymous with disappointments was delivered a dream Monday night, and Jaret Wright was its weaver. He is 21 years old, five months out of Class AA ball, and Monday night he beat the New York Yankees for the second time in four days to enable the Cleveland Indians to advance to the American League Championship Series.

The final score was 4-3, and a larger score has been settled. The Yankees have beaten Cleveland more than 1,000 times in this century, but never with quite so much at stake.

"The kid has a lot of courage," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He kept them in it and left with a lead. You have got to give him a hell of a lot of credit."

Maybe somewhere deep inside Jaret Wright, a little boy was jumping up and down at all he had achieved. But the kid has a veteran's veneer to go with an All-Star fastball.

He was asked whether he had ever imagined such an extraordinary turn of events, when he started this season with Akron.

"If I would have been daydreaming," Wright replied, "I wouldn't have gotten out of Double-A."

Had Wright remained in the minor leagues, the Indians would surely not be moving on to Baltimore with a shot at the World Series. Their season might well have stopped before Sandy Alomar's back-from-the-dead home run Sunday night.

Twice, Wright outpitched Andy Pettitte, whose previous postseason appearance was a shared World Series shutout of the Atlanta Braves. Both times, Wright demonstrated sharper stuff, and stronger poise. The Indians scored three runs off Pettitte in the third inning Monday night and made their lead stand.

In a series where no lead was safe, the Yankees rallied from a 4-0 deficit to within a run. They would drive Wright from the game in the top of the sixth, but they could not score against his relievers: Mike Jackson, Paul Assenmacher and Jose Mesa.

The Yankees finished with 12 hits, compared to only seven for the Indians. But they did not bunch them nearly so well.

Marquis Grissom and Bip Roberts hit singles with one out in the Cleveland third, and Omar Vizquel followed with what might have been an inning-ending double play. He struck a sharp bouncer to first baseman Tino Martinez, who threw to shortstop Derek Jeter for the force on Roberts.

But Pettitte forgot the first lesson of spring training, which is that it is the pitcher's duty to cover first base on those balls a first baseman must field. Jeter was forced to hold the ball, and Vizquel reached first as Grissom advanced to third.

Then, with Pettitte intent on getting a third strike past Manny Ramirez, Vizquel took off for second with the ball still in the pitcher's left hand. Pettitte, renowned for his pickoff move, lost sight of the runner at first, and Vizquel moved into scoring position.

"Unfortunately, no one yelled out that, 'He's going,' " Torre said. "And Andy had just taken his eye off him."

Vizquel explained that he was acting on his own initiative, and had just wanted to get something going with two outs and two strikes.

"That was a matter of Omar being a little too creative," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "He scared the hell out of me."

Vizquel's steal meant Ramirez' double was worth two runs. Matt Williams followed with a single to left, and the Indians led 3-0. Cleveland picked up a fourth run in the fourth. Alomar opened the inning with a double to left-center field. Slugger Jim Thome, with one previous career sacrifice to his credit, bunted Alomar to third. Tony Fernandez brought him home with a sacrifice fly to right field.

The Yankees struck back with two runs in the fifth inning, and Mike Stanley led off the New York sixth with a double. Wright retired Charlie Hayes on a grounder, but pinch hitter Wade Boggs lined a single to center field for the third Yankee run.

Boggs' hit brought Jackson in from the bullpen, and sent Wright to the bench to a standing ovation. Jackson stopped that Yankee rally, and Mesa maneuvered out of a two-out jam in the eighth by getting Jorge Posada to bounce back to the mound with New York runners at first and third.

With two outs in the New York ninth, Paul O'Neill doubled off the wall in right-center field. But Bernie Williams flied out to left field on Mesa's next pitch, and the sky was filled with fireworks.