Right Place, Wang Time? Wang Turn? If Loving You Is Wang I Don't Want To Be Right?
Generally speaking, scoring twice in the first inning and then not at all for the next seven frames is not a recipe for success. But the Yankees made it work last night, thanks mostly to Chien-Ming Wang’s return to form, and pulled out a 3-1 win over the surprisingly non-crappy Oakland Athletics to go one game over .500 yet again. (As Cliff noted last night, the A's aren’t likely to keep up this pace, but it’s still an impressive start for a team whose biggest star is probably... I don't know, Eric Chavez, I guess? One day I’d love to see what Billy Beane could do with a payroll of more than $17.83.)
Wang was efficient through seven and a third, and while Oakland’s leadoff batter reached base in EVERY SINGLE inning, Wang allowed just one run, thanks to a bevy of ground balls and well-timed double plays. Apparently pitching coach Dave Eiland had urged him to “get the ball out of his glove a little bit quicker,” which would improve his sinker. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what that really means or why it would be true, but it seems to have helped.
In fact, even Wang’s one run allowed should have been unearned. It came in the 4th inning, after Wilson Betemit made what looked to me like an obvious and fairly egregious error on a Jack Cust grounder, but it was ruled a hit, and the run eventually scored. “Isn’t this the big leagues?” asked a bewildered Ken Singleton when the scoring decision was announced. Betemit is a pretty ungainly defender, so it’s a good thing his bat makes up for… oh, wait.
Anyway. Earned or un-, the Athletics’ lone run wasn’t enough. The Yanks scored their decisive two in the first, when Derek Jeter walked and Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi (ignoring his usual warm and loving reception from the Oakland fans) each hit RBI singles. Oakland starter Dana Eveland was described by Joe Girardi, after the game, as “conveniently wild,” which sounds about right. He walked six, but his stuff was good and unpredictable, and the Yankees never really got a rally going. In the ninth Melky Cabrera homered off our old pal Keith Foulke, tacking on an insurance run which Mariano Rivera, pitching for the 4th straight day, didn’t need.
Perhaps it’s just that I’d gotten used to the perma-calm of Joe Torre, but I’m always struck by Joe Girardi’s intense emotional reaction to pretty much every game: you can watch him in a postgame interview and tell within seconds whether the Yankees won or not. It’s not just his facial expression, either -- he actually appears pale and worn if they don’t win, like he’s in physical pain. While it's nice to know how much he cares, that can't be healthy, can it?
-The As pitched Jason Giambi up and in all night – guess they read the scouting report - which resulted in two pitches barely missing his head and a third hitting him in the back. I very much doubt that any of that was at all intentional, but: if you can’t pitch up and in safely, don’t pitch up and in. The pitch in his first at-bat looked like it came within a few inches of his skull.
-In the sixth inning Giambi actually tagged up and moved to second on a fly ball, and it was quite a sight. When your own family, watching in the stands, cracks up imitating your running style, you know you don’t exactly have the grace of a gazelle. Still, between that and his shift-beating RBI hit in the first, it had to be a satisfying day for the Porn ‘Stache of Doom.
-In the 8th, Alex Rodriguez reminded everyone that catching pop ups remains the one and only element of baseball he’s not great at. It’s hard to understand how someone can rush to 500 home runs in record time, steal bases with a high success rate, throw bullets, and field efficiently after learning a completely new position halfway through his career...yet go sprawling awkwardly while failing to nab a routine pop-up. I’m not complaining -- it’s just odd.
-Joe Girardi went to Jose Veras in the 8th, after Wang was pulled, and Mariano Rivera in the 9th for the fourth straight day, the first time Rivera's pitched in that many consecutive games since 2005. Kyle Farnsworth was available, apparently not bothered by the “fatigue” in his bicep, but I’d say Joe Girardi is suffering from Farnsworth fatigue. Every baseball fan in the tristate area, to Girardi, in unison: We told you so.