NEW YORK -- He has been described by his coaches and teammates as being unflappable, but when the Cleveland Indians' Jaret Wright walked three straight New York Yankees in the first inning last night, it showed it's hard to stay completely calm when you're making your postseason debut against the defending World Series champions in the most famed stadium in baseball.
Unflappable under those circumstances? You have to be kidding.
"You can't prepare for it," Wright, the son of former major-league pitcher Clyde Wright, said after the Indians had rallied for a 7-5 win that evened the AL Division Series at a game apiece. "There's no feeling like it. Especially with these fans, you feel like they're right in your ear and right on top of you. I can't say it's overwhelming, but it's pretty close."
Wright got leadoff hitter Tim Raines to ground out. But then in succession he walked Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams to load the bases with just one out.
Whether the sellout crowd -- which cheered louder and louder with every misfired pitch -- bothered Wright was unclear. But there was enough concern that Indians catcher Sandy Alomar, pitching coach Mark Wiley and third baseman Matt Williams each made trips to the mound to calm the rookie.
It didn't work. Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez lined a double down the third-base line to give New York a 2-0 lead.
Bernie Williams went to third on the hit, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Charlie Hayes that gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Wright finally got out of the inning when Chad Curtis grounded out.
But once he calmed down, Wright showed some of the form that had led Indians manager Mike Hargrove to compare him to a young Roger Clemens, holding the Yankees scoreless over his next five innings.
And suddenly it's the Indians who have control of this series. They need to win two of the three games scheduled for Jacobs Field (Game 3 will be tomorrow night).
Cleveland put itself in that position by chasing Andy Pettitte, who had won a team-high 18 games this season, with a five-run fourth inning that was capped by a two-run, two-out home run by Matt Williams.
Wright allowed three hits and struck out five in his six innings. After he left the game, he watched from the bench as shaky Cleveland closed out a win that gave the Central Division champions a chance to win the series at home.
"We won a game they should have won, and vice versa," is how Yankees manager Joe Torre described the first two games.
"Baseball is very unpredictable. We're not expecting anything to be given to us. We have to go to Cleveland expecting to win two out of three, and we're capable of doing that."
It can't help Torre's peace of mind that Pettitte, who won 18 games this season, was hit hard in giving up seven runs and nine hits in five innings.
It was his earliest exit against an American League team this season. His previous earliest exit also was against Cleveland -- on June 21 when he lasted 5 1/3 innings and allowed seven runs and nine hits in a 13-4 loss.
Pettitte was in control early last night, facing the minimum nine batters through three innings. But in the fourth he faced nine batters, with an error by third baseman Charlie Hayes and a misplayed fly ball by left fielder Chad Curtis hurting him.
All five runs he allowed in the inning came after two were out, with the big hit a 411-foot, two-run home run to left-center by Matt Williams that gave Cleveland a 5-3 lead.
Said Matt Williams: "It was a first pitch and he threw me a breaking ball that he left up in the strike zone a little bit. I tried to get good wood on it, and happened to.
"I don't know about momentum. We had games like this against the Yankees all year."
How improbable was the home run? It was the first Pettitte had allowed since Aug. 1. His seven home runs allowed during the regular season was the best such effort by an American League pitcher in 20 years.
"It looked like he was in good shape, making good pitches, but then he couldn't locate the ball anymore," Torre said. "We could have helped him defensively. but they made some adjustments on Pettitte."
Cleveland would score two more runs against Pettitte in the fifth, both also coming with two outs. Meanwhile, Wright had calmed down after his shaky first inning, and wound up allowing just three hits in six innings. He struck out five.
"I'm sure Jaret was scared to death that first inning -- I know that I was," said Hargrove. "I felt if he could get by the first inning, he had a very good chance of doing what he did. I said he reminds me of a young Roger Clemens. He has an ability to not lose his focus, not lose his composure."
Of his first-inning problems, Wright said: "It was the result of being in a position that you've never been in before.
"Basically, I threw up a wall and concentrated on pitching. That's what you have to do -- think about you and the catcher."
"Once he got settled in and got the ball in the strike zone," Hargrove said, "he showed everybody else what we've said all along. He has a chance to be very, very special."
New York closed to 7-4 in the eighth, loading the bases off Paul Assenmacher and Jose Mesa, who hit pinch-hitter Mike Stanley to force in a run.
Wade Boggs then hit a flare to left that shortstop Omar Vizquel tracked down for the second out. Tim Raines' weak grounder to first ended the inning.
Mesa allowed a leadoff homer to Derek Jeter in the ninth, then finished for the save.
Vizquel went 3-for-5 as the Indians ended New York's five-game postseason winning streak that included the last four games of the 1996 World Series.
Pitching matchups for the rest of the Indians-Yankees series:
Game 3: Nagy (15-11, 4.28) vs. Wells (16-10, 4.21)
Game 4: Hershiser (14-6, 4.47) vs. Cone (12-6, 2.82)
* Game 5: Wright (8-3, 4.38) vs. Pettitte (18-7, 2.88)
* --if necessary
Pub Date: 10/03/97