Cleveland handed the Yankees a bit of a scare taking Games 2 and 3 of the ALCS to put the Bombers in their first series deficit of the postseason. Orlando Hernandez responded with a magnificent performance in Game 4, tossing seven scoreless innings to get the Yankees back in the win column and level up the series at two games apiece. With momentum back in their favor, David Wells and Chili Davis stepped up in Game 5 to put the Yankees just one game away from a berth in the Fall Classic.
October 11, ALCS Game 5: Yankees 5, Cleveland 3 (box score)
Playoffs: Up 3-2 in ALCS (120-50 overall)
Wells was dominant in his Game 1 start, pitching into the ninth inning of the Yankees’ 7-2 ALCS-opening win. Building off his seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rangers, it appeared Boomer was hitting top form right when it mattered most. Facing off against him was Chad Ogea, soon to be followed by Jaret Wright — the starter he relieved in Game 1 — in an almost proto-opener scenario 20 years before the term was coined.
Chaos reigned in both halves of the first inning. Ogea hit Chuck Knoblauch with the third pitch of the game, followed by a Paul O’Neill single and Bernie Williams walk to load the bases. This lined things up for Davis to make the first of his two massive contributions on the day, singling through the right side to plate Knoblauch and O’Neill. Tino Martinez was the second Yankee to get plunked in the inning, reloading the bases for a weak Tim Raines groundout to drive Williams home for the third run of the frame. They had opportunity for more, again loading the bases on a Jorge Posada walk, but Scott Brosius struck out to leave the bases juiced.
Kenny Lofton led off the bottom-half with a home run followed by a pair of singles from Omar Vizquel and Travis Fryman, and already we wondered just how crazy this game could get. That was quickly answered by Vizquel stealing third and Fryman advancing to second on a wild pitch, with the former scoring his team’s second run on a Manny Ramirez sac fly. Wells wasn’t quite out of the woods, with a Fryman steal of third and Jim Thome walk placing runners on the corners, but strikeouts of Mark Whiten and Richie Sexson stranded them there.
Knoblauch drew a walk to lead off the second and advanced to second on a Derek Jeter sac bunt. This allowed O’Neill to single him home, followed by a single from Williams to place runners on the corners and end Ogea’s outing. Wright entered and induced an inning-ending double play to stop the bleeding, but it would be far from plain sailing for the unfortunate loser of Game 1. Martinez led off the third with a walk and a Brosius single and Knoblauch walk loaded the bases for the fourth time, but Jeter grounded out to offer Wright a temporary reprieve — one which would be interrupted by a Davis solo shot in the fourth to give the veteran DH his third RBI and his team a 5-2 lead.
From there it was all about Wells’ wipeout stuff, with the curveball a particularly devastating weapon on the outing. After his rally-ending two strikeouts in the first, Boomer tallied a pair of strikeouts in each of the third, sixth and seventh innings as well as facing the minimum in the second and fourth.
The only other blemish on his start came in the sixth, with Thome demolishing a two-out solo shot into the second deck in right to reduce the Yankees’ lead to 5-3, but otherwise Wells struck gold with his 7.1 innings of three-run ball on seven hits and a walk against 11 strikeouts on 104 pitches.
Combined with his Game 1 performance, it was enough to eventually earn Wells the ALCS MVP honors when the Yankees wrapped the series up in the Bronx.
Joe Torre called upon Jeff Nelson with one out in the eighth, but the towering righty promptly plunked Fryman and surrendered a single to Ramirez, forcing his manager right back out of the dugout to task Mariano Rivera with converting the five-out save. As if there were any question, Mo induced the inning-ending double play before setting down the side in the ninth, a strikeout of Enrique Wilson capping off the Yankees’ 5-3 victory.