Fireworks exploded in the sky, car horns blared on the streets of downtown and champagne flowed in the clubhouse.
The Cleveland Indians didn't win the World Series Monday night, even though it seemed that way by the reaction of everyone in and around Jacobs Field. But the Tribe did get one step closer to that goal and eliminated baseball's reigning champs in the process.
Behind the pitching of 21-year-old Jaret Wright and three of his bullpen buddies, Cleveland held off the New York Yankees, 4-3, to win the best-of-five American League Division Series, three games to two.
The final three innings were excruciating for the Indians and the packed house of 45,203. All night, the crowd rose in unison for every two-strike pitch by an Indian. By the eighth, the fans were on their feet howling with every delivery.
But closer Jose Mesa made it interesting. With two outs in the eighth, he gave up back-to-back singles to Charlie Hayes and Wade Boggs to put runners at the corners. Up came backup catcher Jorge Posada, inserted when New York manager Joe Torre pinch hit for starter Joe Girardi in the sixth. Posada grounded back to Mesa to end the inning.
Then in the ninth, Mesa got Tim Raines and Derek Jeter on groundouts before Paul O'Neill doubled off the wall in right-center to keep the Yankees alive. Finally, Bernie Williams lofted a lazy fly that Brian Giles cradled in left field for the final out.
The Indians mobbed Mesa at the mound as the crowd went wild.
"Every out seemed to take so long," said Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel. "You keep looking at the scoreboard and we were still in the seventh inning. They were the longest outs I've ever played."
"I'm only 27 and I think I'm going to have a heart attack before this is over with," said first baseman Jim Thome. "You work all your life to get in situations like this when you're in the spotlight. We were fortunate to beat a team that played like they were the world champions."
There was, however, little time to celebrate for the Tribe. The Indians left immediately after the game for Baltimore, where they will work out today and open the American League Championship Series against the Orioles Wednesday night.
It will be a rematch of last year's Division Series, which the wild-card Orioles won with a four-game upset of Cleveland, a 99-game winner in the regular season.
The Tribe earned its ticket to crabcake country thanks to the final swing of momentum in a series of wild emotion. Cleveland won the final two games to end the Yankees' hopes of repeating as World Series champions.
"This is awesome," roared Bip Roberts in the din of the Cleveland clubhouse. "It's out of sight. This team has worked so hard since I've been here (he came in an Aug. 31 trade) and it's great to be rewarded."
The Tribe will forever be grateful to Wright, who twice bested New York's Andy Pettitte in this series. Wright lasted 5 1/3 innings Monday, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits. He had a nine-inning scoreless streak snapped in a two-run fifth, equaling the Division Series record set by Oakland's Mike Norris in the strike year of 1981.
Pettitte went 6 2/3 innings, retiring the last 11 men he faced, but was a hard-luck loser.
"I was able to pitch ahead of hitters a lot more this time than in Game Two," said Wright. "You either win now or go home, and I knew everyone was looking to me. You've got to let it all out. There's no reason to hold anything back."
"The kid has a lot of courage," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He went out and gave his club a chance to win . . . It was a hell of a performance. You have to give him a lot of credit."
The Indians staked Wright to a 4-0 lead through four innings. Manny Ramirez stunned Pettitte with a two-out, two-run double in the third over the head of center fielder Bernie Williams, and Matt Williams followed with an RBI single to make it 3-0.
The Indians got what turned out to be the decisive run in the fourth. Sandy Alomar led off with a double and Thome then dropped a perfect sacrifice -- his first successful bunt since July 3, 1994, and just the second on his career -- to move Alomar to third. Tony Fernandez followed with a line drive to right that turned into a sacrifice fly and gave Cleveland a 4-0 lead.
"That bunt was great," Vizquel said. "It showed you how big the little things can be in these kind of games. A guy who hit 40 homers bunting like that was awesome."
The Yankees battled back with two in the fifth, one on a Bernie Williams single and the second when Ramirez booted the hit in right field for an error to allow O'Neill to score. Wade Boggs' pinch single in the sixth scored Mike Stanley to make it 4-3 and finish Wright, but Mike Jackson, Paul Assenmacher and Mesa kept New York at bay and prevented the tying rally.
"It was a big shock that we didn't see it," Torre said, referring to a comeback to produce the tying run. "There's a lot of heart in our room. Our guys don't accept losing."