On tough N.Y. stage, rookie Wright must display star quality Starter's poise faces major test as Indians look to rebound in Game 2

October 02, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- For Cleveland Indians pitcher Jaret Wright, the people in this city are proving to be difficult to figure out. Maybe it has something to do with the unpleasantries that have been directed at him and his teammates during their brief stay here this week.

"I mean people are yelling at you for whatever -- I don't even know these people," Wright said yesterday. "They love their Yankees, and whoever comes in to try to beat up on them, I guess they take offense to that."

Sounds just like a rookie, which is exactly what 21-year-old Wright is. In June, he joined a Cleveland staff that had been depleted by injuries.

If Wright is surprised by what he's heard from New Yorkers so far, he'll definitely be in for a jolt tonight when he takes the mound at historic Yankee Stadium in an attempt to even this best-of-five American League Division Series at a game apiece.

It would be an arduous task in a difficult place for even the most seasoned of pitchers. "I think it's going to be a test of what I can take," Wright said. "We'll see what happens."

Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove doesn't appear to be having any misgivings about sending to the mound a player who began the season pitching for Single-A Akron. The main reason Hargrove is pitching Wright is that he didn't want sinkerball throwers Orel Hershiser and Charles Nagy starting the first two games.

Another reason is that Wright had an 8-3 record in 16 starts and demonstrated poise and power to help the Indians win the AL Central. His fastball is in the 95- to 98-mph range. And Wright is unafraid to pitch hitters inside in order to seize control of the plate -- something he will need to do against a Yankees team that hit four home runs in its 8-6 win on Tuesday.

"The presence and image that Jaret projects has a lot to do with [his starting tonight]," Hargrove said. "He's a young man who has tremendous stuff, and I have yet to see him intimidated by a situation that we've put him in. And we've put him in situations in August and September where he pitched some pretty big games for us and was an integral part of why we were able to win our division."

When asked if he was worried about throwing a rookie in such a big game, Hargrove, who likens Wright to a young Roger Clemens, said, "I would be if the rookie wasn't Jaret Wright."

Wright was raised in big-league surroundings. His father, Clyde, pitched 10 years in the majors with the Angels, Brewers and Rangers.

"I think being around the big-league games through his father has a lot to do with his early maturity with the game," Hargrove said. "I see the same arrogance, the same beliefs, as his dad -- but I see a lot better stuff."

Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar also has been impressed.

"When we recalled Wright, nobody thought he was ready for the major-league level, but we had no choice," Alomar said. "Jaret Wright was an answer. He came in and filled some big shoes. He did a great job, he has a lot of heart and he hasn't showed me he gets nervous out there."

The Indians are hoping they will have an advantage in the unknown with Wright, who has yet to face the Yankees.

"Whatever edge there is, I hope we gain it by the fact they haven't seen firsthand what his pitches do," Hargrove said. "You can watch it all you can on TV and on video, but watching it firsthand is different."

Still, no matter how good Wright's stuff is, his Game 2 counterpart -- Andy Pettitte -- said pitching his first postseason game in a must-win situation at Yankee Stadium might be as unnerving as having to tell David Wells the dinner buffet is closed.

"I couldn't sleep before I made my first start in the postseason, I was so wound up," Pettitte said. "I think it will be impossible in his situation, with the tradition here and with our offense. We have such professional batters. If we don't get to him, it will be an unbelievable pitching job by him."

So far Wright, who at this time a year ago was reporting to fall ball in Arizona, has kept his cool. Yesterday, he was expecting to spend a calm day with his mother and father. Well, sort of.

"My parents are in town and my mom is really wanting to go to see a play," Wright said. "So we might send her out to see a play."

As for Wright, his plans for today are to maintain the even temperament that he's been noted for.

"I'm human, I'm going to have nerves and be nervous and excited -- that's the thrill of competition," Wright said. "I'm going to stay away from thinking of anything that's not going to help me pitch my game. If I go into the game thinking I don't want to go down 0-2, it's going to hurt me."

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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