Indians take Yanks' seat at O's party Overlooked Cleveland caps 2-game comeback beating Pettitte, 4-3

Rookie Wright again excels

Ramirez's 2-run hit sparks return to ALCS

October 07, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- A year ago, it was a cocky Cleveland Indians team that entered the postseason, only to be embarrassed in getting eliminated by the Orioles. Last night, it was a more humbled Indians team that earned a shot at redemption.

That Orioles-New York Yankees series that everyone had talked about? That matchup of the teams with the two best records in the American League was ruined by the Indians last night as Cleveland -- one night after a dramatic come-from-behind win in Game 4 -- defeated the Yankees, 4-3, to advance to the American League Championship Series.

It appeared a near impossible scenario for the Indians, who entered the deciding fifth game with a rookie pitcher who had started the season in Double-A Akron. But 21-year-old Jaret Wright shut down the Yankees early, while the Indians got to New York starter Andy Pettitte early.

Clutch defense and a strong effort by the bullpen down the stretch gave Cleveland its second trip to the League Championship Series in three years.

"This is a fantastic feeling," said Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove, who earlier in the season had been criticized for his club's inability to pull away in the AL Central. "I don't know if it's any more satisfying to beat the Yankees. They played like champions. It would have been great beating anybody."

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.

Cleveland winning the Yankees series did not seem likely Saturday, when the defending World Series champions took a 2-1 series lead with a win here. And it definitely didn't seem likely on Sunday when New York led 2-1 in the eighth inning before the Cleveland bats came alive.

There were a lot of heroes for Cleveland last night starting with Wright, who allowed two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings as he became just the fourth Indians pitcher to record two or more victories in a single postseason series.

Then there was right fielder Manny Ramirez, who broke an 0-for-13 streak with a two-out, two-run ground-rule double off Pettitte in the three-run third inning.

And the list goes on from Omar Vizquel's big stolen base in the third that preceded the double by Ramirez, to Jim Thome, whose heroics were twofold: a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning -- just the second sacrifice bunt of his major-league career -- to a huge defensive play in the seventh when he snared a shot off the bat of Derek Jeter and, while lying on the ground, threw out Tim Raines at second base. Instead of having two on with no outs, Thome's play stalled a potential rally.

"That was the play of the game," a subdued Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Thome's defensive gem. "I wouldn't say it was our last gasp, but that was a huge play for us."

Hargrove said: "If he doesn't make that play, we might still be out there playing, or might be out of it."

Last night's deciding game was a chance at redemption for Pettitte, who was roughed up in Game 2, yielding seven earned runs in a 7-5 loss.

Last night, Pettitte returned to the form that carried him to an 18-7 record in the regular season -- save for the third inning, when the Indians nicked him for three runs and four hits -- the big hit the two-run double by Ramirez. Marquis Grissom scored from third as well as Vizquel -- who stole second just before the hit to put two runners in scoring position.

"Manny swings the bat well off Pettitte," Hargrove said. "Goodness knows, Manny was due. I had a good feeling about Manny's at-bat."

A single by Matt Williams would score the third run of the inning. The next inning Thome, who hit 40 home runs this year, came up after Sandy Alomar led off with a double. Thome's bunt advanced Alomar, who scored on a sacrifice fly by Tony Fernandez for the run that proved to be the game-winner as Pettitte yielded nothing more, pitching into the seventh.

"You'd rather see a guy like Jimmy swinging the bat normally to drive that run in," Hargrove said. "But in this situation, you need all the runs you can get. You don't want to waste any. It was a big run, huge run."

After Wright left in the sixth with a 4-3 lead, it was up to Cleveland's bullpen to hold the lead. And that's exactly what they did as Mike Jackson, Paul Assenmacher and Jose Mesa all came on in relief to help preserve the win that set off a loud celebration at Jacobs Field.

"This team all year long has battled though a lot of adversity," Thome said. "We got big plays when we needed it. On the defensive play, I bounced off the bag, stopped the ball to get the guy out. If you can't do it with the bat, you have to do it with the glove."

He wasn't the only one flashing the leather. In the second inning, Yankees designated hitter Mike Stanley led off with an infield hit, and moved to second on Charlie Hayes' single to right field.

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