The Yankees have waited an entire year for payback against Cleveland, and more than six months for a chance to beat Wright. Tonight, the Yankees will begin trying to even both scores.
Put on your game faces, everyone. This year's AL championship series could be wild. One tight pitch a little too close to someone's chin and Bob Sheppard, the Yankees' P.A. announcer since 1951 may follow his "Welcome to Yankee Stadium" salutation with "Let's Get Ready to Rumble."
Much of the pregame talk before Game 1 centered around the acrimony between the teams stemming from Cleveland starter Wright breaking Sojo's left hand during spring training.
To this day, many of the Yankees think Wright was intentionally throwing at Sojo, a charge Wright, Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove and the other Indians dismissed on Monday during workouts.
"Jaret is not a head hunter, but to be effective, anybody has to throw inside," Hargrove said. "I don't think we should all get carried away in dragging out old grudges or new grudges. As far as I know, there is no bad blood between these two teams."
Maybe someone should tell the Yankees that. New York Game 1 starter David Wells didn't sound like he's gotten the message.
"You don't have to pitch up and in and head hunt," Wells said. "Sometimes it can be personal through the course of the year. ... They are an aggressive team, and I think we are, too. You just got to go out there and fight to the death. When you go out there and try to win ballgames, things can happen, guys get a little bit out of control at times."
The Yankees felt their first-round loss to Cleveland last season was a fluke, and despite winning 114 regular-season games this year, the pain from dropping Game 5 at Jacobs Field is as strong now as it was 12 months ago.
If there was one player most responsible for New York not possibly going after a third World Series now, it's Wright. He beat the Yankees twice in that five-game series as a rookie and twice more this season.
He further enraged the Yankees during a spring training game in Florida on March 2 by fracturing a bone in Sojo's hand with a head-high fastball. Sojo was sidelined for nearly a month.
Sojo is sure Wright intended to hit him.
"No doubt about it," Sojo said. "The next inning I'm leading off and he threw at my head after we hit two guys. I mean, what do you think? That's why I was upset. It cost me a month."
So revenge is on New York's mind for more than one reason.
"It really makes no difference how we feel about him," Derek Jeter said. "We want to get back. Last year he had a big part of eliminating us from the playoffs, so the best way to get back at somebody is to beat them.
"We want to beat him because he's standing in our way to the World Series. We have to beat him. That's all the incentive that we really need."
For the Indians, their incentive comes from being overlooked yet again.
Few thought they could get past the Red Sox in the first round, especially after they dropped Game 1 at home 11-3. But showing some of the resolve that's helped it get to the World Series two of the last three years, Cleveland rallied to eliminate Boston in four games.
"We're always the underdog," Sandy Alomar said. "That doesn't matter. We have enjoyed being the underdog."
Wright went 2-1 against the Yankees this year, losing in New York and then winning twice in Cleveland.
"We beat this team when I happened to be on the mound," said Wright, 12-10 with a 4.72 ERA this season. "My job stays the same: to keep it close and, hopefully, put up some zeros."
Wells defeated the Indians in his one start against them this season on June 20. He allowed two runs and eight hits in eight innings, striking out nine without a walk. A win over Texas in the first round last week improved his career postseason record to 5-0. And in May he showed he could handle the ultimate test of pressure baseball could place on a pitcher _ a perfect game.
He made it very clear that he welcomes the responsibility of getting his team off to a good start in Game 1.
"I am not a follower, and I believe that I am a leader going out there
and trying to set the tone," Wells said. "Especially if I get the ball
first. I am not afraid to fail, and I hate to lose."