Yesterday afternoon, in his major league debut, 25-year-old righty Chien-Ming Wang (pronounced "Chin-Ming Wong") retired the first ten batters he faced on 24 pitches and shut out the Blue Jays through his first four innings. In the fifth he gave up a pair of runs on a single, a full-count walk, a pair of groundouts that moved the runners up, and an infield single. In the sixth he worked out of a two-on, no-outs jam on eight pitches, and in the seventh the only hit he allowed was a one-out wet-grass bunt by Russ Adams, who was then stranded at first base.
Throughout Wang appeared unflappable, lulling the Blue Jays to sleep with his easy motion. Wang takes two pauses in his wind up, one when he brings his hands over his head, and another when he lifts his leg. He then appears to soft toss the ball to home, but in reality he whips his right arm producing mid-nineties heat. Over the course of his seven innings of work, he broke countless bats and produced ground balls by a nearly 3:1 ratio. His final line was 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 0 K, 67 percent of a mere 81 pitches for strikes.
As that pitch count would suggest, Wang could have gone longer, but Torre and Stottlemyre decided to err on the side of caution by taking him out while he still had, in Torre's words "a good taste." They then turned to their one-two punch of Gordon and Rivera. Unfortunately, the still-struggling Yankee bats had only managed three runs off of David Bush (courtesy of a Jeter, Bernie, Sheffield rally and a Rodriguez solo homer--what else is new). That meant that Gordon only had a one-run lead to work with, which he quickly surrendered by giving up a one-out solo homer to Corey Koskie. Fortunately, he was able to work out of an ensuing jam and Rivera, who had not pitched in more than a week (just twice in the past two and a half weeks, actually) and had been away from the team for the past two days with a stomach virus, worked a nine-pitch 1-2-3 ninth.
That left it up to the bottom of the Yankee order in the ninth. Alex Rodriguez lead off with a walk. Andy Phillips, who doubled following an 11-pitch at bat pinch-hitting in the sixth for Jason Giambi, who left with a cramp in his forearm, then failed to bunt Rodriguez over, instead replacing him at first. Tino Martinez, now 5 for 13 since reentering the line-up, followed with a single to put runners on the corners with one out. Jorge Posada was then sent up to hit for John Flaherty and was intentionally walked to load the bases and bring up Tony Womack.
So here's your ballgame. Tie game in the bottom of the ninth, one out, bases loaded, Bubba Crosby in to run for Phillips at third and Tony Womack at the plate. What's your move?
To me this is a no-brainer squeeze bunt situation. Womack's an excellent bunter, the grass is wet and has already proven to stop balls dead (thus the success of Russ Adam's bunt and the failure of Andy Phillips'), and Crosby is a speedster at third.
Of course, what I leave out is the fact that the squeeze bunt isdead to Joe Torre (cripes, if the A's will do it . . .). Torre has Womack swing away. Miraculously, he delivers, not just a game-winning productive out, but an actual, honest-to-goodness game-winning single to give the Yankees a 4-3 victory. O frabjous day! The Yankees end their worst April since 1991 with a victory and avoid going six games below .500 for the first time under Joe Torre. It was a very good day.
Some quick notes:
Tony Womack is 9 for his last 22.
Jason Giambi struck out looking in both of his at-bats yesterday. He has now struck out 23 times this season, 10 of them have been looking.
Hideki Matsui's slump is getting worse as he's beginning to turn back into Groundzilla, grounding into yet another double play yesterday.
Tom Gordon has indeed been struggling against lefties thus far this year. Lefties are hitting .316/.417/.737 against him, while righties are hitting just .143/.190/.238 in an almost identical number of plate appearances. The good news is that his splits from recent years show nothing more than a slight natural split in his effectiveness against lefties and righties, so this is most likely a sample-size fluke due in large part to the game-altering homers he's allowed to Brian Roberts and now Corey Koskie. Still, it's something to keep an eye on, and yet another reason why I believe that Buddy Groom should survive Tanyon Sturtze's return from the DL later this week.
The final totals on the Yankees miserable month:
10-14 (.417), 7 games behind the Orioles in the East and 3 games behind the Red Sox. .476 Pythagorean winning percentage (about 11-13). 7-9 at home, 3-5 on the road. Won two series (Red Sox 2-1, Blue Jays 2-0), tied two (Devil Rays and the current Jays 1-1), lost five (Baltimore twice, including a sweep for a 1-5 record against the O's, Boston, Texas, Angels).
Today the Yankees play the fourth rubber game of their young season. Thus far they have lost the other three (to the O's at home, Sox in Boston, and Angels). Carl Pavano rematches against Ted Lilly, a match-up that proved to be a mismatch in Toronto. Meat's defeat of Lilly in Toronto seemed to be a turning point for the Yankee rotation, which after Wang's performance today looks stronger than it has all season. Here's hoping Carl can ring that bell again and earn our Pav-love (I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry).