Sunday, June 05, 2005

Rookies Pave The Way

With team captain Derek Jeter out due to a headcold and Jorge Posada getting a night off, the Yanks relied on two young guns to help break their six-game losing streak with a come-from-behind 4-3 10 inning victory over the Twins.

In seven innings of work, Taiwan product Chien-Ming Wang made just one mistake, allowing a three-run home run to Jacques Jones in the fourth that gave the Twins a 3-0 lead. But after the long ball, the surprising 25-year-old rookie retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced in seven innings of work, giving his team a chance to comeback.

Slumping first-year second baseman Robinson Cano had a huge night going three-for-four with a run scored and a key two out fifth inning two-run double that cut the score to 3-2. The 22-year-old out of the Dominican Republic entered the game three-for-his-last-27. He plated the tying run on a Hideki Matsui RBI groundout in the eighth after the Bombers took advantage of some shoddy Minnesota defense.

The Yanks got strong relief pitching from Tom Gordon, who went two solid innings fanning two and permitting just one hit for his first win of the season against three defeats. He has been one of the few bright spots lately in what has been a struggle for the ball club. It seems Gordon has regained his confidence from last October and is showing signs of being the dominant setup man he was for most of last season. His curve is down and his cutter is biting. They will need Flash to continue to be lights out.

After Gordon retired the Twins in the ninth, the Yanks finally showed some signs of life with a one out rally against Minnesota closer Joe Nathan. After Gary Sheffield struckout, Matsui walked and then came the biggest play of the game. With Alex Rodriguez coming through with a single to center, Matsui, who is an underrated baserunner, decided to test Gold Glove centerfielder Torii Hunter's arm. He just beat the throw into third. This would prove pivotal when Ruben Sierra hit a sac fly to deep center to give the Yanks the winning run. The RBI was Sierra's 10th of the season and second since coming off the DL May 20th. Two innings earlier, Sierra had a chance to be the hero in similar fashion to Game Four of the AL Division Series. Against Juan Rincon in last year's come-from-behind win, he hit a tying three-run homer to turn the tide. But this time with the bases loaded, he whiffed to end the threat. He certainly atoned for that later on.

Mariano Rivera pitched a flawless 10th fanning two Twins for his 13th save of the season and first since the Yanks' last victory over Boston at the Stadium May 27th. Mo has not allowed a run in 11 straight appearances. So much for his demise. He continues to get sharper as the weather warms up. Hopefully, for the Yankees (28-27), when he enters games, it will continue to mean something in August and September.

Getting back to Wang. This guy has come from nowhere to become a reliable starter. In his six starts, he has pitched at least six innings in every one. The only game he didn't pitch well was against Tampa Bay, when he gave up five earned in six frames. Other than that, this guy has pitched into the seventh giving up three runs-or-less in the other outings. Very impressive for an unknown. He doesn't have overpowering stuff. He has only K'd 15 in 44 and two-thirds innings. However, what's refreshing about Wang is his ability to throw strikes. Out of the 93 he tossed Saturday, 60 were strikes. What also should be noted is that just nine batters have drawn walks off him. This tells me that he is not afraid to rely on his defense. Entering last night, opposing hitters were batting .243 off him.

If Wang continues to have quality starts, the Yankees will have a dilemma with what to do with him. Jaret Wright could be due back soon. And we all know how ineffective he was in his first month as a Bomber. Should a guy the team committed a lot of money automatically replace Wang in the rotation? I don't think so. The Yanks have a reputation of going with the guys they signed. Maybe they need to take a different route with Wang. You don't want him to lose confidence if he goes to the bullpen.

In any event, it should be interesting to see if Wang can keep up his reliable pitching. With Carl Pavano struggling and Randy Johnson average, Wang has provided a spark.

Today, Kevin "Punch Wall" Brown (4-5, 5.14 ERA) takes the mound against Carlos Silva (3-3, 3.09 ERA). As much as I kill Brown, he has pitched better lately. He had a four-game win streak snapped at Kansas City Tuesday. He has gone seven in two straight. He needs to come up big like he did last year vs Minnesota in Game Three. Ironically, he outpitched Silva in that game. Maybe he'll wake up on the right side of the bed.

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