CLEVELAND — He was considered dead weight in Anaheim, a guy who clogged up the basepath and bogged down the payroll, so the Angels rid themselves of Chili Davis in 1996, the second time in seven years they deemed the designated hitter unworthy of re-signing.
Call it coincidence or typical Angel luck, but wonderful things seem to happen every time Davis leaves Anaheim.
Davis helped Minnesota win the 1991 World Series after a three-year stint with the Angels, and Sunday he helped the New York Yankees take a giant step toward the 1998 World Series, knocking in three runs in a 5-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the American League championship series.
Davis stifled a Jacobs Field crowd of 44,966 with a two-run single in the first inning and stunned Indian fans with a bases-empty home run in the fourth, as the Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, which returns to New York for Game 6 on Tuesday night.
Yankee left-hander David Wells, infuriated by insults about his deceased mother hurled at him by Cleveland fans while he warmed up in the bullpen, lashed out at the Indians, limiting them to three runs and seven hits--including homers by Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome--in a gutty, if unspectacular, 7 1/3-inning performance.
Wells, facing a near-toothless lineup that included three rookies but no David Justice (bruised right forearm) or Sandy Alomar (back spasms), struck out 11, a career postseason high, and walked one.
Wells continued to cement his reputation as one of the decade's best big-game pitchers, improving to 7-1 with a 2.62 earned-run average in eight postseason starts dating to 1995.
Yankee closer Mariano Rivera also continued to distance himself from the crushing home run he gave up to Alomar in Game 4 of the 1997 division series, getting Mark Whiten to ground into a critical double play with two on to end the eighth and adding a hitless ninth for the save.
And now the Yankees, dealt a staggering blow when they lost Game 3 on Friday night to fall behind, 2-1, in the series, are back on solid ground, carrying the momentum into Game 6 with pitcher David Cone scheduled to start against Cleveland right-hander Charles Nagy.
"When you have a lead you never want to play Game 7, because weird things seem to happen in Game 7," said Yankee right fielder Paul O'Neill, who had two hits, a run and an RBI. "It's a great feeling coming back to win two close games after what happened Friday night."
Davis, who missed 118 games because of an ankle injury this season, had a hand in both victories, knocking in the Yankees' first run with a run-scoring double Saturday night and giving New York a 2-0 lead in the first with his bases-loaded single off Indian starter Chad Ogea on Sunday.
"They carried me all year--it's about time I did something," Davis, 38, said. "My injury was unfortunate, but I look at the positive side. I'm glad it happened early, because I had time to work my butt off to come back."
Davis was obviously no longer needed in Anaheim, which traded him to Kansas City for Mark Gubicza in a deal that allowed the Angels to free up enough salary to sign third baseman Dave Hollins for 1997.
Davis hit .292 with 28 homers and 95 RBIs for the Angels in 1996, but with a shortage of quality arms and a tight budget, the Angels felt they could no longer afford the switch-hitter's $3.8-million salary. So they dumped Davis and signed aging designated hitter Eddie Murray, who was useless in 1997.
"I don't worry what people think anymore," Davis said. "I actually pulled for the Angels this year. I have a lot of friends on that team, and we were so close [to winning the West] in 1995. There are no hard feelings, no animosity. I get along with all the players and [General Manager] Bill Bavasi."
But he seems to get along even better without them. When the Angels didn't re-sign Davis after 1990, he went to the Twins and hit .277 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs and won a World Series title. Two years removed from his last Angel stint, he's on the verge of returning the World Series.
"The whole object is winning, I don't want to get into me, me, I, I," Davis said. "It's satisfying being able to help after being out for so long, but it will be much more satisfying if we win Tuesday and go to the World Series. I'd just like to get another ring."
His chances would improve if the Yankee offense stops hitting the snooze button. New York, which is hitting .198 in the ALCS, appeared to awake from its slumber when it scored three in the first and one in the second Sunday, but the Yankees went hitless from the fifth inning on.
The Indians walked 11, seven by reliever Jaret Wright, and hit two batters, but the Yankees managed only six hits and couldn't put Cleveland away.
"We got a lot of guys on base but can't seem to get the key hit to blow the game open," Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez said. "It's been this way the whole postseason, we get the key hits, and our pitchers have been able to hold teams down."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
A.L. CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
TUESDAY'S GAME 6
Cleveland (Nagy, 15-10) at New York (Cone, 20-7),
5 p.m., Channel 4
Yankees lead series, 3-2
SERIES REPORT: Page 11