Bronx, N.Y., June 12, 2007 — Had Arizona second baseman Orlando Hudson handled Johnny Damon’s leadoff first-inning grounder cleanly Tuesday night, it’s likely Brandon Webb and Chien-Ming Wang would have held their respective clubs to one run each over seven crisp frames. Considered in tandem with Justin Verlander’s no-hitter in Detroit, it was as if hurlers were paying their respects to John Lee Richmond’s Perfect Game on June 12, 1880, the first 27-up, 27-down game in professional baseball history.
But although even a Yankee fan would have to admit that Webb’s overall performance barely outshone Wang’s, Brandon faltered and threw his worst pitch of the night to the wrong guy at the wrong time. The result was a 4-1 Yankee victory, their seventh straight, and one which finally culminated their climb to the break even point, at 31-31.
Neither pitcher was at their best coming off an hour rain delay that actually delivered a fairly pleasant evening to the Bronx. Wang battled through 22 pitches to retire the young D’backs around two singles in the top of the first, escaping a first-and-third, one-out dilemma on a foul pop to the catcher and a grounder to second.
Webb, the 2006 NL Cy Young winner in search of his seventh win, started the bottom half by coaxing a one-two Damon grounder to Hudson’s right, and Orlando’s off-balance throw pulled Tony Clark off the bag at first. Webb made matters worse by falling behind Derek Jeter 3-0, but he got a called strike and then a hard grounder toward short. But assuming that Jeter would be going to right, Stephen Drew ran to cover as Damon took off for second and what could have been a double play ball to short was instead a hard single that had Damon and Jeter on the corners with nobody out. Webb got a called strike on the recently hot Bobby Abreu, but a followup fastball got too much of the plate and the Yankee right fielder launched it over the fence in right for a 3-0 Yankee lead.
It was a blow from which Webb and Arizona would not recover. Brandon then found himself, and he was superb. He does not throw hard, featuring a high eighties heater with a 75-mph sharp curve and a well-disguised change of pace that crosses at about 80. That he closed the first with two strike outs was misleading. He would post but two more whiffs while frustrating all but two of the next 18 Yankees in their attempts to square up their bats with his offerings. Miguel Cairo singled to right in the second in an extraordinary at bat where he battled Webb through eight throws, but the next hard-hit ball among a lot of flairs and rollers was a Robbie Cano double that pushed the Yanks’ fourth, and last, run into scoring position in the bottom of the seventh.
Wang, meanwhile, was effective as well. Absent was the slider he’s been mixing in with his sinking fast ball this season, but he managed nine of 18 ground ball outs, although his streak of throwing a double play ball in every 2007 game sadly came to an end. He was having a little trouble with his control, which elevated his pitch count more than is usual. Wang used the hard sinker, clocked at as high as 95 but 92-93 mph more often, to pound through innings of six, 10, 12 and 13 pitches, but it took him 15, 16 and 22 throws to close the deal in his other three frames. Chien-Ming’s strikes/balls ratio was 60/34 and he found the zone with first pitches 16 of 28 times. He allowed five singles and a Chad Tracy fourth-inning home run to right that represented the Arizona scoring.
With just two strike outs and no walks, he doesn’t hesitate and he throws strikes, and his defense rewarded him for this with at least five fine plays. Miguel Cairo snagged a hard liner into the second base hole in the third and made a fine pick on a rushed Jeter throw into the dirt in the fourth. And Captain Jeter went well into the oufield to snag a Chris Young bloop in the fifth and snared Young’s hard liner to close the seventh, and end Wang’s day, with two men on. Wang failed to follow up on a rare Yankee complete game his last time out, as it was obvious he was tiring. Despite a three-weak-grounder sixth, he pitched up in the seventh with Melky Cabrera snagging back to back liners to center before Jeter got it to the pen with his line drive grab.
Kyle Farnsworth survived a messy eighth inning on 29 grueling pitches, while Juan Cruz shut the Yanks down one-two-three in relief of Webb. And Mariano Rivera dominated the D’backs in the ninth for a save, an opportunity he’s finally getting more regularly as the club plays better.
And speaking of playing better, nobody on this team has turned things around more dramatically than Bobby Abreu. He has been hot since the last road trip, and his four key hits Sunday actually overshadowed Alex Rodriguez’s two home runs for anyone who was at the game. He is en fuego, and it has coincided with the team’s rise in fortunes.
Veteran Yankee watchers know that no home run ball has ever been hit out of Yankee Stadium, though both Mickey Mantle and Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson came close. But several years ago Bernie Williams actually hit one in batting practice that bounced out and onto River Avenue over the shorter wall that encloses what was at one time a bullpen in right field. Bobby Abreu’s first-inning blast landed in that same area, separating the bleachers and the grandstand. But although it carried deep into that alley, it did not bound over.
Famed disaster movie producer and director Irwin Allen would have been 89 Tuesday. He is probably best known for the movie whose title approximates the kind of hit and the player whose first-inning blast won this game for the Yanks. Once Bobby smacked that 0-1 pitch to deep right center, I’m sure Brandon Webb and the D’backs saw a