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THE WRIGHT STUFF; CLEVELAND YOUNGSTER PUTS AWAY NEW YORK : CLEVELAND 7, NEW YORK 5.

Byline: Sheldon Ocker Akron Beacon Journal

For two solid days, the New York tabloids were filled with stories about the supposedly unflappable Cleveland Indians 21-year-old pitcher who was destined to drop into a fetal position as soon as 57,000 Yankees fans began shrieking.

If you are Jaret Wright, you don't argue with the tabs.

And so when the Indians' rookie phenom walked the bases loaded and gave up three runs in first inning of Game 2 of an American League division series with the New York Yankees Thursday night, lots of heads began nodding.

But Wright kept on pitching, and the Indians earned a 7-5 win to split two games at Yankee Stadium.

The third and fourth games - as well as the fifth, if necessary - are scheduled for Cleveland. Game 3 will be played Saturday night.

``I'm sure that Jaret was scared to death,'' Manager Mike Hargrove said. ``I know that I was. Not really. What I thought is that if he got past the first inning, he had a good chance to do what he did.''

Wright likely saved the Indians from a quick postseason extinction.

``Jaret showed everybody he has a chance to be something very special,'' Hargrove said of Wright, who lasted six innings and didn't give up a run after the first.

What happened to Wright in the first inning was predictable, and probably inevitable.

``It was the result of being in a position I've never been in before,'' he said. ``You can't prepare for this. There is no feeling like it. Especially these fans. It feels like they are right in your ear and on top of you.''

But Wright didn't do it alone. Cleveland's hitters were all over Yankees starter Andy Pettitte. By the time he slinked away after five innings, he had given up seven runs and nine hits.

For the second game in a row, Cleveland mounted a five-run rally. Tuesday night, the Indians battered David Cone for five runs in the first inning, but Cleveland couldn't make it stick.

It took awhile for Cleveland's batsmen to figure out Pettitte. But in the fourth inning, the Indians batted around, as Omar Vizquel ignited a rally with a one-out single to third.

The hit didn't look like much, especially when Manny Ramirez whiffed for out No. 2. But Pettitte walked Matt Williams - no easy task - and David Justice drove in the first run with a single to right.

After that, the hits kept coming.

``Baseball is very unpredictable,'' New York manager Joe Torre said. ``Every time you get something rolling, the team across the field does something to you.''

Sandy Alomar slapped a single to center to score the second run. Jim Thome skulled a 28-hopper through the middle for a hit that scored Justice, and Tony Fernandez doubled to left, scoring two more runs.

Fernandez started at second in place of Bip Roberts against the left-handed Pettitte. Not only did it work, but Fernandez's drive to left also froze Chad Curtis, whose delayed response allowed Thome to score from first.

In the fourth, Matt Williams twisted the noose even tighter by whacking a 411-foot drive over the left-field fence to give Cleveland two more runs.

``He happened to leave a breaking ball up in the strike zone, and I got enough of it,'' Williams said.

Meanwhile, it didn't take long for Wright to regain his composure - assuming he ever lost it.

With one out in the first, he walked three in a row, then gave up a two-run double to Tino Martinez. Charlie Hayes' sacrifice fly followed immediately, but that was it.

Wright never thought he was doomed to leave the game without seeing the second inning.

``I never think negatively,'' he said. ``I'm thinking that I have the bases loaded, but maybe I'll get a double-play ball, or something. It's never, `What did I get myself into?' ''

The jitters - or whatever made Wright lose his command - disappeared, and so did the chance for the Yankees to turn this series into a romp.

How did Wright turn it around?

``It was a lot of stuff,'' he said. ``Basically, I threw up a big wall - think about you and the catcher.''

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1--color) Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr., center, greets teammates Mike Bordick, left, and Brady Anderson after they scored on a double by Roberto Alomar in the fifth inning. Baltimore beat Seattle to take a 2-0 series lead. Story, Page 4.

(2--color) Cleveland's Matt Williams, right, keeps 21-year-old Jaret Wright on track in playoff victory at New York.

Associated Press
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 3, 1997
Words:762
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