High and tight
Bad blood simmers between Yanks, Indians in ALCS
Posted: Tuesday October 06, 1998 01:08 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- One inside pitch is all it may take to transform the AL championship series into a brawl.
All the ingredients are there: Cleveland's upset win over New York last year, Jaret Wright's drilling of Luis Sojo last spring, the 114 wins by the Yankees, breaking the AL record set by the '54 Indians.
So watch out for chin music. High heat could mean trouble.
"You don't have to pitch up and in and head hunt," David Wells said Monday, a day before starting the opener against Cleveland's Jaret Wright.
"Sometimes it can be personal through the course of the year. ... They are an aggressive team, and I think we are, too. It is something -- you just got to go out there and fight to the death. When you go out there and try to win ballgames, things can happen, guys get a little bit out of control at times."
The Yankees have hunger in their eyes, still angry at themselves for losing to Cleveland in the first round last year, when New York was defending its '96 World Series title.
Wright beat the Yankees twice in that five-game series and twice more this season -- half the Indians' wins in their 11 games against the Yankees. Sojo says Wright deliberately hit him during spring training March 2, fracturing a bone in the his left hand and sidelining the infielder until April 27.
"Jaret is not a head hunter, but to be effective, anybody has to throw inside," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "I don't think we should all get carried away in dragging out old grudges or new grudges. As far as I know, there is no bad blood between these two teams."
In a way, that's true. After going 114-48 during the regular season and sweeping Texas in the first round, the Yankees want to steamroll any and all opponents.
Holding Texas to a .141 batting average in the first round wasn't luck, the way New York sees it.
"It's tough to make a bad decision when you have the quality that I have," New York manager Joe Torre said.
And now New York has rookie Shane Spencer, the hottest hitter in the game. And the incentive to win for Darryl Strawberry, recovering from surgery last weekend to remove a cancerous tumor from his colon.
"The Straw factor is part of it," Torre said. "He keeps giving orders to go out and do it. He did it again yesterday."
Given the Yankees' strength, it's almost overlooked that Cleveland is the defending AL champion, trying to win its third pennant in four seasons.
"We're always the underdog. That doesn't matter. We have enjoyed being the underdog," said Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr., who homered off Mariano Rivera to tie Game 4 last year when the Yankees were four outs from advancing.
The Indians, who have won four straight AL Central titles, are coming off a four-game win over Boston. They have lost seven straight postseason openers and really don't want to be down a game when David Cone pitches in Yankee Stadium's famous October shadows Wednesday against Charles Nagy.
Wright, pounded for six runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings in the opener against Boston, bears the burden. He won Game 2 at Yankee Stadium and Game 5 at Jacobs Field, looking nothing like the average 21-year-old rookie.
He then went 2-1 against the Yankees this year, losing in New York and then winning twice in Cleveland.
"We beat this team when I happened to be on the mound," said Wright, 12-10 with a 4.72 ERA this season. "My job stays the same: to keep it close and, hopefully, put up some zeroes."
Wells, 18-4 with a 3.49 ERA, beat Nagy in Game 3 last year, then defeated the Indians in his only start this season. His perfect game against Minnesota on May 17 was the first major highlight of baseball's comeback year.
"I think, if anything, probably I saw him pitching with more confidence after the perfect game," Hargrove said.
Wells, always outlandish, was his usual outspoken self.
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