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PLAYOFF OUTINGS BRIGHTEN WRIGHT'S WONDER YEAR

He began the year as the first starting pitcher ever at Canal Park, the new home of the Double-A Akron Aeros. He went 4-1 in seven outings with the Buffalo Bisons before getting his first chance in the big leagues.

Now Jaret Wright has an entire city's hopes on his 21-year-old shoulders.

"It seems like the season started three years ago," said Wright, who will pitch Game Five of the American League Division Series for the Cleveland Indians tonight against New York left-hander Andy Pettitte. "It's amazing to still be pitching in October and it's great. It's something I never could have expected."

Wright was the winner in Game Two at New York, surviving a three-run first and lasting six innings in Cleveland's 7-5 win that brought the series back to Jacobs Field even at one win apiece.

"He'll know when fans get loud here, they're pulling for him," noted Cleveland pitcher Orel Hershiser. "To have Game Two under his belt is a huge thing.

"He was very human giving up three runs when you consider he was a 21-year-old put into a playoff game at Yankee Stadium. After that, he became superhuman by showing how special he is. I don't think there is anything we need to tell this guy."

"This is what you dream about as kids," Wright said. "If I didn't want to be in my shoes (tonight), then there is something wrong."

Pettitte, meanwhile, will be trying to avenge the Game Two fiasco that saw him give up seven runs in five innnings after the Yankees staked him to a 3-0 lead.

"I didn't try to think about it too much," Pettitte said. "I didn't watch any film or anything but I saw the highlights on SportsCenter. I wasn't falling behind hitters. It just seemed that on my 'out' pitches I was up in the strike zone and got hit. . . . Hopefully, I won't allow him (Wright) to get that comfortable again by giving them a four-run lead."

Somewhat lost in the bedlam of the Indians' Game Four rally was the work of Yankees starter Dwight Gooden. He gave up one run on five hits in 5 2/3 innings, but was denied his first postseason win. Gooden went to seven three-ball counts in the first three innings, but allowed only two hits in his final 4 1/3 .

"He was reaching the 'E' on empty, but he pitched a courageous game," Yankee manager Joe Torre said. "Once he got it settled in, he got some huge outs for us. He had a hell of a start. Unfortunately, we couldn't hold it up for him."

Indians catcher Sandy Alomar, a hero for his momentum-turning home run Sunday night, also had a two-run double in Game Four of the Division Series with Baltimore last season that appeared to give the Tribe momentum to get to Game Five.

"Then some guy named Roberto Alomar went and screwed it all up," said a grinning Sandy, referring to his brother's ninth-inning single and 12th-inning home run that allowed Baltimore to oust Cleveland with a 4-3 win. "I hope I can see him this week (in the ALCS) and pay him back."

Tonight will be the first ultimate-game in a playoff series in Indians history. They have never played past Game Six in a seven-game series or past Game Four in a five-gamer. . . . The pregame first-pitch ceremony was a tribute to the Bisons' American Association championship. Brian Anderson threw it to catcher Einar Diaz as Jeff Manto, Enrique Wilson, Jason Jacome, Bruce Aven and Bartolo Colon looked on. All are in uniform, but only Manto, Wilson and Jacome are eligible for the series. None has appeared so far.

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