Put on the spot, Wells shuts down Indians, wins Game 3 Five-hitter gives Yankees 6-1 victory, 2-1 series edge

O'Neill has slam, 5 RBIs

October 05, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- As far as David Wells was concerned, his place in the postseason rotation was secure. Sixteen wins during the regular season -- second-most on the team -- apparently solidified his spot. Yet when New York Yankees manager Joe Torre was making out his playoff rotation, he considered keeping Wells out of it.

But Torre decided to go with Wells. And the pudgy left-hander did not disappoint last night. With a huge assist from Paul O'Neill's fourth-inning grand slam, Wells' complete game lifted New York to a 6-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 of an American League Division Series.

The Yankees split the first two games in New York and needed to win two of three games here to advance to the AL Championship Series. They took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series and continued their penchant for winning on the road -- the Yankees are 9-0 away from home in the postseason over the past two seasons.

"We're one win away from going to the next level," Torre said. "However, they won two in a row many times this year. You have to play again [tonight]. I'm glad where we are, as opposed to where they are. They can't afford to lose a game."

Cleveland is in that position partly because it couldn't figure out Wells, whose only strikeout in his five-hitter was of Sandy Alomar for the final out. Wells didn't walk a batter and threw only 105 pitches, getting many hitters to go after the first pitch.

"I don't understand it," Wells said. "Pitching against them the whole year, they were pretty much patient. [Last night,] it was like pitching against Montreal."

And pitching was a lot easier for Wells after the fourth inning, when the Yankees blew the game open.

Cleveland starter Charles Nagy left the game in the fourth after walking the bases loaded. With O'Neill at the plate and two outs, manager Mike Hargrove replaced Nagy with Chad Ogea.

The move proved disastrous. After fighting off one pitch after another, O'Neill slammed a 417-foot homer to dead center field, the fourth grand slam of his career. The blast -- the eighth grand slam by a Yankee in a postseason game -- gave New York the 6-1 lead.

"I saw Ogea coming in, and I know I haven't had much success off of him," said O'Neill, who was hitless in five previous career at-bats against Ogea. "I stepped out of the box a few times to calm down. He made a mistake and he got the ball up."

After O'Neill's home run (he had five RBIs, the most by a Yankee in a postseason game since Thurman Munson in Game 5 of the 1978 World Series), Ogea retired the next 13 batters. The only other hit he gave up was a bloop single by catcher Joe Girardi to lead off the ninth.

"Chad was outstanding," Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said. "We didn't want him to give up the four runs. But he did an outstanding job."

The same can't be said for Nagy, who had an ERA of 18.00 against New York in three regular-season meetings this year. Nagy gave up only two hits, but his six walks in 3 2/3 innings tied a Division Series record.

"That's as inconsistent I've ever seen Charles Nagy," Hargrove said. "Charles pitched from behind. He was picking a whole lot, and not going after these guys. It's difficult to get good hitters out when you're not ahead of them."

That wasn't a problem for Wells, whose complete game was the first by a Yankee since Rudy May in the 1980 ALCS against the Kansas City Royals.

Wells pitched a complete game for the fifth time this season -- the entire Cleveland staff had four for the 1997 season.

And the win was a nice bit of redemption for Wells, the former Oriole whose flabby arms and nearly triple chin are a far cry from what one would expect on a major-league athlete.

An eccentric type (the tattooed Wells nearly got into a fight with team owner George Steinbrenner), Wells has been a target of the New York media. When Torre took his time in naming a Game 3 starter, Wells was unhappy.

"At first, I was a little bit upset. You go out and win 16, and you're a question mark for the third spot," Wells said. "You have to accept it and not be selfish about the whole thing. You push things aside and do what's best for the team. And that's what I did."

And that helped push the Yankees one game closer to their goal of repeating as World Series champions.

"This team wants to repeat," Wells said. "And I want to do what I can to help them."

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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