Bronx, N.Y., May 21, 2007 — Although it’s an easy bus ride, I’m sure no Yankee players used that form of transportation to get from Queens to the Bronx Monday night, to start a three-game series with the Red Sox and a six-game homestand. Coming off a weekend-saving win over the Mets Sunday night, the Yankees rode a struggling Chien-Ming Wang to a 6-2 victory.
Perhaps we’ll look back on this start someday as the one in which Wang became a more complete pitcher, but the fact is that he mixed in more than an occasional low-80′s change of pace with his four-seam and two-seam sinking fastball, and when he couldn’t find the zone, it seemed he was as likely to toss a slider as the heat. His difficulty with the zone had young Wang in pitch count trouble all day, and he threw better than 18 pitches four of the first five innings.
You would not have known this from the Red Sox though. They came up with all of three weak singles (two ground balls and a soft liner) and two walks through four, and finally got on the board on back-to-back doubles from Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz in the fifth. The tally hardly registered against the 4-0 Yankee lead, built on A-Rod’s first-pitch two-run bomb off Tim Wakefield in the first, a Jason Giambi upper deck shot in the second, and Derek Jeter’s rbi single.
The veteran Boston knuckleballer gives the Yanks fits more often than not, or used to, but continuing with a patient hitting strategy seemingly reborn against the crosstown Mets in a hard-fought 10-7 loss on Saturday, the Yanks reached Wakefield for five walks, nine hits, and six runs through five. The Boston righty was pushed to frames of 27 and 25 pitches, and finally 32 in the fifth when Robby Cano plated the last two hometown runs on a well-driven liner the opposite way to left for a two-run triple.
Meanwhile, Wang persevered through all of this, including long Yankee innings, and he actually came out to start the seventh having thrown 103 pitches through six. He uncharacteristically escaped trouble with five K’s through four, four of them swinging. The highlight was a swinging strike out of Youkilis with the sacks filled in the second on a walk, a single, and a Jeter bobble on a ball Wang barely missed. Although that punch-out came on heat, he got two on sliders. His strikes/balls ratio was a too-wild 64/50, he threw just 14 first-pitch strikes to 29 Red Sox hitters, and got home plate ump Ed Rapuano to make just one called strike during his last 39 throws.
At the end of the day, he did get nine of 19 outs on ground balls, but five of them came in the fifth and the sixth. Alex Cora flew to left for an out in the seventh, but Wang walked Julio Lugo after being up 1-2, and when Youkilis doubled him to third, his day was done. Lefty specialist Mike Myers, doing the job he was signed to perform, came in for Ortiz, who plated the second (and last) Sox run on a sac fly to left. Brian Bruney relieved and struck out Manny Ramirez on fastballs that rose in speed from 94 to 95 to 96, and what should have been the Sox’ last chance was over. Bruney was just as good in the eighth, with a quick K and a popup, but he walked Coco Crisp, and bobbled Doug Mirabelli’s roller in front of the plate. Scott Proctor came on and loaded the bases by hitting Cora, but Cano made a nice play on a Julio Lugo bouncer up the middle, and the Sox were done.
It was a gorgeous night in the Bronx, and the crowd tingled with anticipation. Fans were fairly well behaved until the Yank lead stretched to five runs, and then extracurricular activity of a decidedly unbaseball quality cropped up. It was a good win for the Yanks, a necessary one, and they start Tuesday less than 10 games from first place.
It hasn’t just been tough on the field of play in Yankee land, with firing rumors buzzing around the manager and the gm and the papers delighting in all the off-the-field drama. Alex Rodriguez has silenced the boo birds because he has been excellent, and the crowd was delighted when he homered for the quick 2-0 lead. But fans looked at me like I was crazy when I implored Giambi to “take him downtown” in the second. Two pitches later he did just that and we had a 3-0 bulge. Jason hasn’t been healthy, and he is not hitting after having put together a nice streak from late April into early May. Not only that, he made some unfortunate though honest references in a newspaper interview to the illicit steroid use that was widespread in the game just a few years ago. Too pronounced in the papers, and not enough on the field, Joe Torre batted him seventh.
Mr. Giambi has had some physical problems, but he has a Yankee Stadium stroke, I can assure you. I have the programs to prove it. He followed his home run by gathering two of the eight walks the Yanks received, and in the seventh he grounded to second, or at least to the shortstop who started the at bat positioned to the right of second and who actually fielded the grounder closer to first. But Jason just missed the pitch before, lining it hard and back over the visiting dugout where it spun toward my seat. I tracked it coming while failing to rid myself of either scorecard or pencil. I have missed numerous fouls under these one-handed conditions before, but I snatched at the ball with my right hand. It popped free, barely, and for the first time the scorecard came in handy. With it I batted the ball toward my chest, pulled may elbows in and grabbed the ball.
Although the company may now be in its final throes, the Greyhound Bus Company got its start in Minnesota on this day in 1914. In the ugliness that has been a bad Yankee start, the bus cliche that has been most in use is “under the bus,” as in that is where various fans want to throw nonproducing players, Giambi among them. Johnny Damon has received prominent mention. Bobby Abreu and the enigmatic Robbie Cano have as well.
Let’s turn that cliche around. Joe Torre under the bus? He’s going nowhere. Roger Clemens has apparently made it a condition of his return. Brian Cashman? Who could have constructed a winner around the plague of freak pitching injuries that are becoming Biblical in their number and severity? Johnny Damon? Three-for-four with a walk and run scored. Bobby Abreu? One-for-three with a walk and a run scored, and it cost Red Sox pitchers 25 bullets to finish his four plate appearances. Robbie Cano had two extra base hits, two rbi’s, and would have had a third hit but for a very good play by Manny Ramirez.
Okay, the winning streak is just two games long. They’re still 9.5 games out. But this team seems to be turning a corner offensively, and is set to have perhaps the best rotation in the game in a matter of weeks. With more normal work, the pen has been very good.
Whom do we throw under the bus next time? Nobody. It’s time to “get on the [team] bus.” There are lots of games to be won.