Saturday, July 4, 2009

For Wang, A Season From Hell

No matter how hard he works, Chien-Ming Wang appears destined to have a season I wouldn't even wish on Curt Schilling ... and I hate Curt Schilling.

Just as Wang was on the verge of a truly quality start, he finds himself headed back to the disabled list, this time with a shoulder strain and bursitis.

Wang was removed with one out in the sixth inning, but the Yankees rallied from a two-run deficit to beat the Jays 6-5 on Jorge Posada single in the 12th Saturday at Yankee Stadium. The win moved the Yankees 1 game behind the Red Sox in the AL East.

But it cost them key a part of their rotation.

Wang was just coming around after starting the season with three disastrous starts and a DL stint, the result of hip weakness caused by complications from his Lisfrance ligament injury last season.

He finally got his first victory of the season in his last start against the Mets last Sunday, and Saturday he was actually looking like the guy who was one of the top starters in the majors for 2-1/2 seasons.

The offense got Wang a lead early against Roy Halladay as Damon walked with one out in the first, advanced to second on a ground out and scored on Alex Rodriguez's single -- the Yankees' first RBI hit with a runner in scoring position since Tuesday. They'd get only one more the rest of the game -- Posada's winner.

Wang was sharp early. Though his pitches were topping out at only 93 mph, his sinker was lively and slider effective.

And we saw that old ability to escape big trouble in the second.

With one out, Lyle Overbay walked and Vernon Wells hit a ground rule double. Alexis Rios followed with a two-run single to give the Jays a 2-1 lead, but Wang escaped further damage by getting David Dellucci to ground into a double play, one of three Wang induced in the first four innings.

That was the only trouble Wang had until the sixth. He was efficient with his pitches and poised to go deep into the game.

Meanwhile the offense kept taking advantage of Halladay, who clearly was not himself in his second start since coming off the DL.

Hideki Matsui homered with one out in the second to tie it a 2 and Posada crushed a hanging curve for a homer leading off the fourth to give Wang and the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

Wang was cruising. And then he was done.

Marco Scutaro led off the sixth with a double and after Aaron Hill grounded out, Adam Lind crushed 90 mph fastball for a homer to right.

Wang threw one more pitch, an 86 mph sinker and Posada came running out, calling for Joe Girardi and the trainer.

"Just the way he threw the ball," Posada said, "it wasn't like he followed through all the way. He kind of pushed it toward me."

And like that Wang was gone, off to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for an MRI that revealed the strain and bursitis.

"He's going to need some rest," Girardi said. "You obviously don't ever want to lose anyone. Today was probably his best start."

Wang ended up allowing four runs on six hits and one walk in 5-1/3 innings. He struck out one and threw only 66 pitches, 45 for strikes, lowering his ERA to 9.64.

Wang said his is very worried about the injury, but added the pain is not as severe a the shoulder inflammation that landed him on the DL for two months in 2005.

"Mostly, I am afraid if it takes surgery to repair, that would be the worst
case. I hope that wouldn't be the case," he said.

And at that point, things were bleak. David Robertson replaced Wang and walked Scott Rolen and Overbay before Rios singled in Rolen to give the Jays a 5-3 lead.

Normally, there's no way anyone comeback from that against Halladay. But Halladay was off.

Derek Jeter led off the seventh with a single and Damon followed a Yankee Stadium homer just over the wall in right to tie it at 5.

It was the first time this season Halladay, who is 16-5 in his career against the Yankees, has given up three homers in a game. He ended up allowing five runs on nine hits and three walks in seven innings. He struck out just three and threw 65 of 108 pitches for strikes.

The bullpen meanwhile continued its roll. Brian Bruney gave up two hits and a walk in the seventh, but escaped without any damage. The Jays got one more hit the rest of the way against Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, Phil Coke and Brett Tomko, who pitched a scoreless 12th for the win.

Coke pitched two dominant innings, using just 20 pitches. Over his last 15-1/3 innings, he's allowed one run on five hits with 16 strikeouts.

The Yankees finally put it away in the 12th, but not without some headscratching.

Mark Teixeira led off with a double that bounce off first base and the Jays then intentionally walked A-Rod to bring up the No. 5 hitter, still Robinson Cano.

Cano was already having a bad game, going 0-for-5, including 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position, and a double play. Girardi asked Cano to sacrifice.

Now if there ever was a great indictment of Cano hitting fifth, I'm not sure what it is. What other pennant-contending team would ever asked its fifth-place hitter to sacrifice in a situation where a single likely wins the game. This is supposed to be a run producer.

Please Joe, drop Cano in the lineup.

But I digress.

Shawn Camp missed with his first three pitches to Cano, making the count 3-and-0. Girardi took off the bunt sign, but Cano didn't see that. He bunted the 3-and-0 pitch, and it was awful. A short dribbler that catcher Raul Chavez pounced on and threw to third to get Teixeira.

Cano is now 20-for-100 with runners in scoring position.

Fortunately for Cano, Posada is a veteran and ripped a single to center that easily scored A-Rod and allowed the Yankees to celebrate with another pie to the face.

It was the Yankees' major-league leading 24 come-from-behind win, but one that won't be celebrated that long.

Now they have to figure out how go about replacing Wang for the short-term.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-10 (.200)
188-for-735 (.256)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
122-for-463 (.263)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Sunday vs. Jays, 1:05 p.m., YES
Brett Cecil (2-1, 5.09 ERA) vs. Joba Chamberlain (4-2, 3.89)

At some point Joba has to prove he can be a guy who can consistently get past the sixth inning. He's averaging 5-1/3 innings this season. Today would be a good day to start, especially after the bullpen had to eat up 6-2/3 innings Saturday.

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