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After capturing their first world championship in 18 years the previous season, the New York Yankees entered the 1997 campaign hoping to defend their World Series title.  Although the Yankees actually posted a better regular-season record than they did one year earlier, finishing the campaign with a mark of 96-66, they found themselves unable to win their second straight A.L. East title.  With the Baltimore Orioles compiling a record of 98-64, New York finished second in the division, two games out of first.  Nevertheless, the Yankees advanced to the playoffs as the American League’s wild-card entry.

Even though they entered the postseason tournament as a wild-card, the Yankees were given an excellent chance of repeating as world champions.  They won more games than any other team in the league, aside from Baltimore, and they were the junior circuit’s most well-balanced club.  The Yankees placed second in the league with 891 runs scored and a .287 team batting average, and they topped the circuit with a .362 on-base percentage and a team ERA of 3.84.     

David Wells, David Cone, and Andy Pettitte gave New York an extremely formidable “Big Three” at the top of the starting rotation.  Wells finished second on the team with 16 victories and 218 innings pitched, and he led the staff with five complete games.  Cone finished 12-6 with a team-leading 2.82 ERA.  Pettitte compiled a record of 18-7 and a 2.88 ERA, and he led the staff with 240 innings pitched.  Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera made the Yankees quickly forget about John Wetteland, who left the team via free agency during the offseason.  Rivera posted an ERA of 1.88 and placed second in the league with 43 saves.  

New York also had a very deep lineup that featured Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez.  O’Neill earned a 12th place finish in the MVP voting by hitting 21 home runs, driving in 117 runs, and batting .324.  Jeter batted .291, led the team with 23 stolen bases, and placed among the league leaders with 116 runs scored and 190 hits.  Williams hit 21 homers, drove in 100 runs, scored 107 others, and finished fourth in the league with a .328 batting average.  Martinez had the finest year of his career, placing second in the league with 44 home runs and 141 runs batted in, scoring 96 runs, and batting .296, en route to earning a second-place finish in the league MVP balloting.

Facing the Yankees in the ALDS were the Cleveland Indians, who captured their third consecutive A.L. Central title by finishing six games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox, with a record of 86-75.  The Indians weren’t nearly as strong as the Cleveland club that combined to win a total of 199 games the previous two seasons.  They finished just ninth in the league with a team ERA of 4.73.  Yet, they still had a powerful offense that finished third in the junior circuit with 868 runs scored, a .286 team batting average, and a .467 slugging percentage, and that placed second in the league with 220 home runs and a .358 on-base percentage.

Slugging first baseman Jim Thome led the Indians with 40 home runs and 104 runs scored, knocked in 102 runs, and batted .286.  Third baseman Matt Williams hit 32 homers and led the club with 105 runs batted in.  David Justice hit 33 home runs, knocked in 101 runs, and finished third in the league with a .329 batting average, en route to earning a fifth-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting.  Manny Ramirez hit 26 homers, drove in 88 runs, scored 99 others, and also placed among the league leaders with a .328 batting average.  In addition to playing a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, Omar Vizquel scored 89 runs and finished fifth in the league with 43 stolen bases.  Catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. had his finest season, hitting 21 home runs, driving in 83 runs, and batting .324.  

Still, Cleveland’s mediocre pitching staff made New York the favorite heading into their ALDS showdown.  Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser were the Indians’ only effective starters.  Nagy finished 15-11, with a 4.28 ERA and a team-leading 227 innings pitched.  Hershiser compiled a record of 14-6 and a 4.47 ERA.

New York capitalized on Cleveland’s poor middle-inning relief in Game One, overcoming an early 5-0 deficit to post a come-from-behind 8-6 victory at Yankee Stadium.  Cleveland scored six times against David Cone in a little over three innings, en route to building a 6-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth.  Sandy Alomar Jr. provided the big blow for the Indians with a three-run homer in the top of the first inning.  After the Yankees closed the gap to 6-3, they exploded for five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, with Tim Raines, Derek Jeter, and Paul O’Neill hitting consecutive two-out homers.  The outburst gave the Yankees an 8-6 lead that their bullpen protected.

After the Yankees scored three times against Jaret Wright in the bottom of the first inning of Game Two, the 21-year-old right-hander settled down to shut out New York over the next five innings.  Meanwhile, the Indians scored seven runs against Andy Pettitte in the fifth and sixth innings, en route to tying the series with a 7-5 victory.

After the two teams traveled to Cleveland for Game Three, Paul O’Neill delivered a fourth-inning grand-slam home run that gave David Wells all the runs he needed to put New York ahead in the series once more.  Wells allowed Cleveland only one run on five hits, in throwing a complete-game 6-1 victory.

The Yankees appeared to be headed back to the ALCS when they took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Four, with Mariano Rivera on the mound.  However, Sandy Alomar Jr. reached Rivera for a two-out, game-tying homer to the opposite field.  The Indians then tied the series at two games apiece by pushing across the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Ramiro Mendoza on an infield single by Omar Vizquel.   

With momentum on their side, the Indians jumped out to a 4-0 lead against Andy Pettitte after only four innings in the decisive fifth contest.  The Yankees, though, chipped away at the lead by scoring two runs in the top of the fifth, and another in the sixth.  However, that was as close as New York came.  Jose Mesa got Bernie Williams to fly out with the tying run on second base and two men out in the ninth inning, to deny the Yankees their second consecutive trip to the ALCS.  The 4-3 victory put Cleveland in the League Championship Series for the second time in three years.

By Bob_Cohen
 

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Tagged:
1997 ALDS1, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Charles Nagy, Cleveland Indians, David Cone, David Justice, David Wells, Derek Jeter, Jaret Wright, Jim Thome, John Wetteland, Jose Mesa, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Matt Williams, New York Yankees, Omar Vizquel, Orel Hershiser, Ramiro Mendoza, Sandy Alomar, Tim Raines, Tino Martinez

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