Had last night's historic comeback come in the penultimate game of a playoff series, tonight's affair would be a foregone conclusion. It seems everytime a team is on its way to winning a series only to be interrupted by a dramatic comeback that forces a double-elimination game, the team that was mere innings from a series win is unable to recover and staggers, zombie-like to defeat. Some quick examples: The Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, the Giants in the 2001 World Series, the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series, on a larger scale the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and the Angels in the 1986 ALCS (two notable exceptions being the Diamondbacks and Reds in the 2001 and 1975 World Series respectively).
That sort of thing is far less likely to occur in the third game of a four-game series in May, but if ever there was a loss that could put a team off its game the following day, it was the one the Rangers suffered last night. Looking to prevent such an occurence will be Kameron Loe, whom the Yankees handled capably in Texas, touching him up for five runs on five hits and three walks in five innings, four of those runs coming on a pair of homers by Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. No word yet as to whether or not Giambi will be back in the line-up tonight, so in lieu of that useful information I'll just mention that Loe looks like he could be Scott Brosius's son, though he's only 15 years younger than the one-time World Series MVP.
Loe will be opposed by Chien-Ming Wang, who handled the Rangers capably in Texas, limiting them to three runs on seven hits and no walks over six innings. In his one start since then, Wang twirled an eight-inning, three-hit gem against the A's B-squad. Wang is on a streak of four-straight solid starts in which he's posted the following line:
The issue, of course, is that nasty 5:9 K/BB. In 49 innings this season, Wang has struck out 18 (3.31 K/9) and walked 16 (2.94 BB/9). Before Wang's first start of the season I wrote about the importance of Wang increasing his strikeout rate:
In his rookie season, Wang struck out just 3.64 men per nine innings, a severe drop from his career minor league rate of 7.06 K/9. In 74 1/3 career triple-A innings between 2004 and 2005, Wang struck out 6.78 men per nine and in 15 1/3 innings this spring he struck out 5.87 men per nine innings. Given that history, it seems fair to expect Wang to increase his strikeout rate to something in the mid-fives this year. As dominating as Chien-Ming can be in terms of keeping his opponents from getting the ball in the air, he'll need to help himself more often this year if he expects to improve on his freshman campaign.
That hasn't happened and indeed, Wang hasn't improved on his 2005 performance. He has managed to repeat it almost exactly, however. For the time being, that will do.