CLEVELAND -- A year ago, it was a cocky Cleveland Indians' team that entered the postseason, only to get eliminated by the Orioles. Last night the Indians earned their shot at redemption.
One night after their quiet bats came alive late in a dramatic come-from-behind win to give them life, it was Cleveland that jumped out early, scoring all its runs by the fourth inning and holding off the New York Yankees, 4-3, to win their American League Division Series.
With the win over the defending World Series champions, the Indians will advance to the American League Championship Series, which will begin tomorrow night at Oriole Park. When the Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the series, observers assumed they and the Orioles would make the ALCS a repeat of last year's showdown of AL East powers.
It will be a repeat -- but of last year's Division Series, when the Orioles ousted the defending AL champion Indians, three games to one.
The Indians earned the win partly because of the arm of 21-year-old Jaret Wright, the fourth youngest pitcher in playoff history to start a deciding game. Already a local legend here, Wright allowed two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings to earn his second win of the series.
Cleveland also won because right fielder Manny Ramirez awakened from an 0-for-13 streak to drive in two runs in the big three-run third inning. And it was only fitting that catcher Sandy Alomar, the hero Sunday with a game-tying home run in the eighth inning, would score what would prove to be the game-winning run when he came home on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.
"It was kind of disappointing everyone started talking about the New York Yankees. We had to stay focused and not listen to the media. We just had to go out and play, and that's what we did."
The deciding game was a chance for redemption for Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who was roughed up in the Game 2 loss in New York.
And for Pettitte, it was a brilliant outing save for the third inning when the Indians had three runs and four hits -- the big hit a two-run double by Ramirez.
And after giving up a leadoff double to Alomar in the fourth, Pettitte would go on to retire the next 11 batters he faced before being replaced with two outs in the seventh.
No, the victory on this night would go to 21-year-old Wright, who gave up three runs and eight hits and had a 4-3 lead when he was lifted from the game with one out in the sixth.
"I went out there and tried to keep them close," Wright said. "I got lucky and put up some zeroes. I might have got tired at the end. But our bullpen came through."
Mike Jackson, Paul Assenmacher and Jose Mesa allowed just one hit the last 3 2/3 innings to seal the victory.
Said Mesa: "When you have 45,000 people cheering for you, you don't have pressure. You just pitch."
From the start it appeared the Yankees' strategy was to unnerve the rookie who got in trouble at the start of Game 2 when he walked the bases loaded in the first inning.
In leading off last night Tim Raines stepped out of the box several times against Wright, who was clocked at 98 mph on his first pitch. Raines stretched his at-bat to 10 pitches before finally singling to right field.
Wright showed no signs of being rattled as he first struck out Derek Jeter swinging on an off-speed pitch, then got Paul O'Neill to ground out to first. He did walk Bernie Williams, who had just one hit in the series going into the game, but then Wright got Tino Martinez to pop out to second base to end the inning.
It was the Cleveland defense that helped Wright avoid trouble in the second. Designated hitter Mike Stanley led off the inning with an infield hit, and moved to second on Charlie Hayes' single to right field.
The next batter, Joe Girardi, hit a ball up the middle that deflected off Wright's glove to second baseman Tony Fernandez. At best, it seemed the Indians would get the force at second as Hayes slid hard into second. But shortstop Vizquel, after touching second, leaped over Hayes, planted and fired a strike to first that just beat Girardi.
Pettitte had it easy over the first two innings, facing just seven batters and allowing just one ball out of the infield. But he ran into trouble in the Cleveland third.
With one out Marquis Grissom singled to left. Omar Vizquel later reached on a fielder's choice -- a play that moved Grissom to third -- and stole second, giving the Indians two runners in scoring position with two out.
Up to the plate stepped Ramirez, who launched a long drive to center field that just eluded Williams for a ground-rule double.
Two runs scored on the play, and Ramirez followed suit when Matt Williams singled to right.
"He pitched well tonight. He just had the bad inning when they scored three runs," Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Pettitte. "He was missing his location. It was some mechanical things. Maybe he feels he should do more against a club he's struggled against.
We put a lot of hard work. Guys don't accept losing."
The Indians made it 4-0 in the fourth, when Alomar led off with a double that bounced off the center-field wall. Thome, who hit 40 home runs this season, was then asked to do something that he had failed to do since 1994 -- successfully sacrifice a runner. Thome's bunt was perfect, moving Alomar to third. He scored when Fernandez flied out to right field.
Wright appeared to be cruising along until the fifth, when his control and the Cleveland defense got him in trouble. Raines walked with one out, stole second and went to third when Alomar's throw sailed into center field. After striking out Jeter, Wright issued a two-out walk to O'Neill.
Williams, with one hit in 14 at-bats in the series to that point, was next for New York. And he hit a two-out single that drove in Raines, with O'Neill scoring after right fielder Ramirez let the ball get by him. In cutting the lead in half, at 4-2, the Yankees ended a string of nine scoreless innings by Wright, which tied an American League playoff record.
"We never stopped fighting," said the Indians' David Justice. "We knew we would have to play tough to beat the Yankees, because they have a champioship club. We knew they were not going to quit."
Pub Date: 10/07/97