Tribe, Bombers both battle-tested
Rematch of '97 ALDS features two teams which beat adversity
The first time the Yankees and Indians met in the postseason, things worked out pretty well for the Tribe, which hopes to replicate that pattern of victory when the two teams open their American League Division Series on Thursday night at Jacobs Field.It was 1997, the year the Indians lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins in the final at-bat of Game 7, and not one of the current Indians was even in uniform. For the then-defending World Series champion Yankees, Joe Torre was in his second season as manager. And current stars Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera were all out there in that five-game series, which turned on a single at-bat during the eighth inning of Game 4, a Sandy Alomar homer off Rivera at Jacobs Field that erased a 2-1 Yankees lead. "That's how you find out how good you are, when you handle failure," Torre said about the right-handed Rivera, who has logged 34 postseason saves while posting a 0.80 ERA. "That's all part of it. When you're a relief pitcher, there's no gray area. You're either good or bad. He showed you what his insides were made of, I guess." Rivera, in his first season as the team's closer back then, has since blown bigger games -- Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against Arizona and Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. But the first time may be the worst time, as the Tribe won Game 4 of that 1997 series in the ninth inning and eliminated the Yankees the next day. The Yankees came back in 1998 to defeat Cleveland in the AL Championship Series, winning the last three games after falling behind, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series. And Rivera saved Game 5. But that 1997 loss, which is a painful memory for Rivera and a moment of sheer joy for Indians fans, is still a big part of the long fabric of history between the two clubs as they open their AL Division Series on Thursday night at the Jake. The two teams haven't met again in the postseason since 1998. The Yankees are back after a season-long struggle just to survive. "We were fighting hard all year," Rivera said of his team's current state of affairs. "That's the most important thing."
Once again, the Indians are champs of the AL Central and the Yankees are AL Wild Card winners, although this time, Cleveland comes in with the better record. In 1997, the Yanks had the decided regular-season edge, finishing 96-66 but still two games behind Baltimore in the East. The Indians won the division with an 86-75 record, six games ahead of the sub-.500 White Sox.This year, the Indians had 95 wins to the Yankees' 92, although six of those wins came against the Tribe in their six head-to-head matches. It's a page the Tribe is ready to turn heading into the postseason. "To do this at the highest level -- this is why you play the game right here," said Travis Hafner. "It was just a total team effort, and it's an unbelievable feeling." The Yankees dominated the Indians this season, outscoring them, 49-17. But the first three-game series was played in April at Yankee Stadium and the other was played in early August at the Jake, before the Indians went on that streak of 11 wins in 12 games from Aug. 25-Sept. 5 that put them in control of their division. They've maintained that level of play ever since. "We've had a great focus for an extended period of time," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. On May 29, the Yankees were 21-29, 14 1/2 games behind the Red Sox and considered down and out. Even in the AL Wild Card on that day they were 8 1/2 games behind the Tigers, the now-dethroned defending AL champions. But the Yanks went 71-39 through Friday to clinch their 13th consecutive postseason slot. "We were written off -- we were firing everybody, we were releasing everybody, we were finished, according to everybody," Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina said. "We climbed back from obscurity."
American League Division Series schedule
|Wed., Oct. 3||6:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||3 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||9:30 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||6:30 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||6:30 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||6 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|* If necessary. All times ET.|
The Indians haven't been to the postseason since 2001 and haven't won the World Series since they defeated the Boston Braves in 1948. That's the second-longest drought in the Major Leagues behind the Cubs, who haven't won since 1908 and haven't even reached the World Series since 1945.The Yankees haven't won the World Series since upending the Mets in 2000 and haven't won the AL pennant since 2003, when they lost to the Marlins in the World Series. The Yanks are getting antsy because they've lost in the opening round the last two years, although their 26 World Series championships are still far and away the most in professional sports. Now they're back for another shot at it. "We're good," Torre said. "We need to pitch. I think everybody in the postseason knows how important pitching is, and luck, especially in that first go-round, with five games. What we've gone through this year as far as the pressure, hopefully, we get a good result."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.