Thursday, August 24, 2006


Wang picks up Bombers' beat

Righty rocks as Yanks rebound

Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon enjoy laugher at Mariners' expense last night in Seattle.

SEATTLE - There is a rhythm to Chien-Ming Wang when he is pitching well, a sort of comforting tempo that is as smooth as the bounces of a routine ground ball.

Wang had it last night. After the Yankees had their five-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday, Wang turned in a virtuoso performance to help the Bombers begin a new one, tossing seven strong innings in a 9-2 victory over the Mariners.

Robinson Cano was 2-for-4 with three RBI while Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada drove in a pair of runs apiece, but Wang's performance overshadowed the others. The righthander methodically worked through the Mariners lineup, allowing two runs and scattering nine hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out five, getting 12 of his outs on ground balls.

That meant his trademark sinker was diving. The pitch is the key to Wang's success and it dictates the pace of his outings; when it's on, the game feels like a steady procession of hitters coming up, beating a ball into the ground and then trailing off at first base before heading back to the dugout.

"He's been special," Damon said. "I didn't get a pop fly in the outfield all day. It's almost like a day off when he pitches."

"The sinker was better than the last time," Wang said.

Through the first six innings, the Mariners got just one runner as far as second base. Wang's only hiccup was in his final frame, and even that was hardly egregious; he gave up a one-out infield hit to Richie Sexson, who went to second on Nick Green's throwing error. After a groundout that moved Sexson to third, Jose Lopez was called safe on a slow roller to second that appeared to be a bad call at first base. Instead of being out of the inning, Wang was still on the mound, and he gave up two more hits - the second of which scored Lopez - before finally getting the third out.

Wang did not look happy as he walked off the mound, but he has high expectations. Last night's victory was his 15th, only one behind AL leader Roy Halladay; he's won seven of his last eight decisions.

Mariners starter Felix Hernandez (10-12) wasn't nearly as good, getting roughed up for seven runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. A year ago, Hernandez dueled valiantly against Randy Johnson but gave up two solo homers in eight innings and lost to the Yanks, 2-0.

This game wasn't nearly as good.

Hernandez had only one smooth inning - the third, in which he retired the side in order with two strikeouts - and struggled with his control all night. Issuing a pair of two-out walks in the first was a harbinger for Hernandez, who gave up a two-run single to Cano that put the Yanks in front before Wang even took the mound.

"We made him work hard," Joe Torre said. "You look up there and it's 20-something pitches after the first inning. We like to do that."

The Yankees missed a chance to add to their two-run lead in the second when Derek Jeter grounded into an inning-ending double play, but they blew it open with a five-run frame in the fourth. Walks were again the catalyst, as Cano worked a free pass from Hernandez leading off.

"King Felix," as Hernandez is known, seemed frustrated. Following Cano's walk, Melky Cabrera laced a single up the middle and Green singled sharply to right two batters later to load the bases with one out.

That brought up Damon, who is the reigning AL Player of the Week and entered the game on a 12-for-29 tear that includes two homers, four doubles, a triple and eight RBI. On this occasion, he delivered a two-run single to right that scored Cano and Cabrera, then scampered to second when Chris Snelling's throw to the cutoff man bounced away.

That made it 4-0, and the Mariners managed to keep the score there for a moment when Yuniesky Betancourt cut down Green at the plate on Jeter's subsequent grounder. But Hernandez promptly walked Bobby Abreu to load the bases again, and Giambi cracked a scorching liner over first base that kicked up chalk as it rolled toward the corner. A fan reached down and grabbed it, giving Giambi a two-run ground-rule double that pushed the Yanks' edge to six.

Posada finished off the frame with an RBI single up the middle that ended Hernandez's miserable night. Wang, on the other hand, was rolling. He had found his familiar cadence and was giving the Yankees exactly what they needed.

"He was back to his old self today," Torre said. "To have this kid come in here and do what he's done for us the last year and a half? It's great for us."

Originally published on August 24, 2006

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