Yanks make 7-2 opening statement Wells excels again, shuts down Indians for Game 1 victory

'I was geared tonight'

5-run first sets tone, KO's Indians' Wright

October 07, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The Cleveland Indians came to the Bronx last night hoping to puncture the aura of invincibility that has grown up around the New York Yankees during their record-breaking 1998 season.

Instead, they found those pinstripes impenetrable in the opening game of the American League Championship Series. Left-hander David Wells turned in another dominating performance and the Yankees' offense came back to life to score a 7-2 victory before a deafening sellout crowd of 57,138 at Yankee Stadium.

Maybe the Yankees aren't unbeatable, but they're doing a pretty good imitation. The victory was their fourth straight in the postseason and their 11th in a row, including the final week of the regular season.

What is even more impressive is the way they have suffocated two of the best offensive teams in baseball, holding the Texas Rangers and Indians to just three runs in 36 innings.

Wells, who pitched eight shutout innings in Game 1 of the Division Series, stretched his scoreless streak to 16 1/3 before giving up a meaningless, two-run home run to Manny Ramirez in the ninth.

"I was geared tonight," said Wells, who struck out seven and walked one. "I wanted this one. If you get the first one, that sets the tone."

Did someone say revenge? The Yankees have made much out of their desire to settle a couple of old scores in this series. They were knocked out of the 1997 Division Series by the Indians and have never forgiven Cleveland starter Jaret Wright for the pitch that broke infielder Luis Sojo's wrist early in spring training.

If they were looking for a little payback, they made the first installment with a five-run first-inning rally that set a couple of ALCS records and knocked Wright out of the game.

The top of the Yankees' lineup was conspicuous by its lack of production in the first round, the first four hitters combining for just six hits in 41 at-bats (.146) and only one RBI in the three-game sweep of the Rangers. Those same four hitters had four singles and two RBIs before Wright recorded his first out last night.

Leadoff hitter Chuck Knoblauch slapped a soft single to right and Derek Jeter followed with a hit to center before Paul O'Neill gave the Yankees the lead with an RBI single. Bernie Williams, held hitless in 11 at-bats by the Rangers, drove home his first run of this postseason with a single through the middle.

Wright got Tino Martinez to ground into a force play and struck out Tim Raines, but he bounced a pitch past catcher Sandy Alomar to bring home the third run and eventually gave up a run-scoring single to catcher Jorge Posada that brought manager Mike Hargrove to the end of his patience.

The raucous crowd booed and taunted Wright until he disappeared into the Indians' dugout, but the Yankees played down their desire to get back at him for the pitch that sidelined Sojo for the first month of the season.

"The fans are unbelievable," Wells said. "They hold grudges more than we hold grudges. To see Jaret Wright go out in the first inning is -- I don't know if I want to say this -- gratifying. He's a young, hard-nosed pitcher. I think what happened early this year, everybody has forgotten about it. The media has just hyped it up."

Right-hander Chad Ogea came on in relief and promptly gave up an RBI single to Scott Brosius to complete a five-run bat-around. The five runs were the most ever in the first inning of an ALCS game. The six singles were the most in any inning in ALCS competition.

How much more would Wells need on a night when he clearly was at the top of his game?

"He was great," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We gave him some breathing room in the first inning, which is something we don't usually do. He doesn't waste time. He's the guy you like to pitch with a lead, because he throws strikes and doesn't walk anyone."

The Yankees added a run in the sixth on a home run by Posada and another in the seventh on an RBI double by Williams, but it was overkill at that point, the way Wells was throwing.

"David Wells did not miss a spot until the ninth inning," Hargrove said. "That's why we had three hits, a walk and a hit batsmen going into the ninth. That's just the old adage that good pitching will shut down good hitting."

Wells has emerged as one of baseball's best clutch pitchers. He is 6-0 in seven career playoff starts with a 2.08 ERA.

He can't claim to be a 20-game winner, but he won his 20th game of the season last night, building on a career year that included an 18-4 regular season and the first regular-season perfect game by a Yankees pitcher.

Not exactly the same guy who pitched well -- but not spectacularly -- for the Orioles in 1996. Not even the same guy who had an up-and-down year for the Yankees last season.

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