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Wright's heroics in '97 remain part of Tribe lore

September 21, 2018

CLEVELAND -- Jaret Wright remains revered among Indians fans for his heroics as a rookie two decades ago. These days, his life is still defined by routine -- pitchers are creatures of habit, after all -- but Wright's schedule revolves around his family.• Jaret Wright's career statsWright and his wife,

CLEVELAND -- Jaret Wright remains revered among Indians fans for his heroics as a rookie two decades ago. These days, his life is still defined by routine -- pitchers are creatures of habit, after all -- but Wright's schedule revolves around his family.
Jaret Wright's career stats
Wright and his wife, Julie, reside in San Clemente, Calif., where most days are unadorned. Wright helps shuttle the kids off to school -- they have four between the ages of 5 and 13 -- and often heads from there to the gym or beach, where he will catch some waves on his surfboard. Evenings are filled with baseball practices and games, with Wright serving as a coach.
"I try and make it as simple as possible," said Wright, who turns 43 in December.
• Each team's most unlikely postseason heroes
It was around this time of year in 1997 when Wright began surfacing as a household name, especially in Cleveland, where he went from breakout rotation member to postseason hero in a span of five months. Wright -- the 10th overall pick in the '94 MLB Draft -- arrived in the big leagues in June and was eventually trusted by Tribe manager Mike Hargrove to start Game 7 of the World Series against the Marlins.
For Wright, and surely for many Indians fans, the memories don't feel so distant.
"It's hard to believe it was 21 years ago," Wright said. "'That's crazy."
After ascending from Double-A to the Majors in the summer of '97, a 21-year-old Wright boasted an 8-3 record with a 4.38 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings (16 starts) for the Indians, helping the club clinch a third straight Anerican League Central title. The right-hander kept it going in October, posting a 3-0 record in five starts, collecting wins against the Yankees in Games 2 and 5 of the AL Division Series and Game 4 of the Fall Classic.
"[Jaret] was a spark plug for us," said Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., who caught for Cleveland from 1990-2000. "He showed right away he could be an ace pitcher. He was very mature with his stuff and he wouldn't let the atmosphere of the big leagues get to him."
Wright praised Alomar for helping him grow quickly as a big league pitcher.
"He knew what I could do," Wright said. "And he knew things I didn't even know that I could do, that he would call and I would just shake my head yes and throw, because I didn't know the hitters too well. All I wanted to do was stick to my strength and try to get guys out. And Sandy would call the game and I wouldn't shake [him off], because if I did, he'd probably pound me into the ground."
Wright was often described by Hargrove and teammates to have a swagger to his demeanor, one with confidence rather than cockiness as its foundation. Wright believed he inherited that trait from his father, Clyde Wright, who pitched 10 seasons in the Majors and was an All-Star with the Angels in 1970.
That type of attitude played a role in Hargrove giving Wright the nod in Game 7 over 20-game winner Charles Nagy, despite asking the rookie to start on just three days' rest.
"I'd worry if he was any rookie but Jaret Wright," Hargrove said to Sports Illustrated ahead of Game 2. "To me, he's got the same arrogance, the same belief in himself that his father had, except I see a lot better stuff from the kid than I did from his dad."
To this day, Wright believes it was destiny for him to be handed the ball.
"It would have been weirder if I wasn't out there," Wright said. "Like, that's where I was supposed to be."
Over 6 1/3 innings, the lone run relinquished by the rookie was a first-pitch leadoff homer to Bobby Bonilla in the seventh.
"It was a bad pitch and he just hit it out of the park," Wright said of the hanging changeup. "Still leading at the time, I didn't really think anything of it. I was just trying to get the next guy."
Wright struck out seven, navigated around five walks and scattered two hits. When reliever Paul Assenmacher escaped further harm in the seventh, preserving a 2-1 advantage for Cleveland, Wright was in line for a win that would have netted the city's first World Series title since 1948.
The Indians are still waiting.
What's next is history. Jose Mesa allowed the game's tying run in the ninth and the teams remained gridlocked until the 11th, when Edgar Renteria delivered a walk-off single that broke Cleveland's hearts.
"We had the lead in the ninth and, unfortunately, we couldn't close it," Alomar said. "Very hard to swallow. Those scars are still there, but it was a fantastic game."
Injuries hindered Wright from fully realizing his potential, creating a winding path that included six teams over 10 seasons in the Majors. That provided perspective for Wright, who did what he could to help deliver a World Series title to Cleveland. For that, Wright will always have a place in the hearts of Tribe fans.
"It's amazing," Wright said. "It's still cool that you can play in one game -- or one series -- and have people still remember it 20-something years later."

Casey Harrison is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland. You can follow him on Twitter @Casey_Harrison1.