"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

If This Is Wang I Don’t Want To Be Wright

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 is dead 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).

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1 Paul   ~  May 1, 2005 4:23 am

1.  Cliff, great title. And despite the Gordon hiccup, wonderful to win a close one.

Wang was economical, but no K's? Granted, not too many balls hit hard off him (lots of broken bats), but Baseball Prospectus would have a grand time projecting how well he will pitch based on this, esp with the Yank's defense. For a #5 starter, I'll take it, though!

2 Alex Belth   ~  May 1, 2005 6:21 am

2.  Best Headline of the Season.

3 Matt B   ~  May 1, 2005 7:43 am

3.  Great headline - makes me want to listen to Luther Ingram (or at least the Faces' cover version).

4 rbj   ~  May 1, 2005 10:34 am

4.  Great headline.
Caught part of the Mudhens - Clippers game last night. Colter Bean still looks great.

5 MikeK   ~  May 1, 2005 11:27 am

5.  Wonderful headline AND a bonus Jabberwocky reference will make my Sunday everytime, even if I do have to watch the Yanks via Yahoo Gamecast...while I'm at work...on a glorious afternoon.

"Callooh! Callay!"

6 markp   ~  May 1, 2005 1:41 pm

6.  Why is Stanton, at best a LOOGY, get to pitch to righties and lefties?

Why is Gordon being used so often? Torre said in ST that Flash was overworked last year, but he continues to use him in every close game.

Why is Sojo still the 3B coach? He has to be the worst 3B coach in Yankee history. How many times do guys he's waved home have to be thrown out by huge margins before making a change?

The mismanagement of every facet of this team is becoming more obvious every day. What will it take for anyone in the front office or even the media to see it?

7 singledd   ~  May 1, 2005 2:12 pm

7.  OK Cliff, be honest. When you came up with "If This Is Wang I Don't Want To Be Wright" you danced a little jig (very, very clever)!

8 singledd   ~  May 1, 2005 2:15 pm

8.  P.S. The Yanks just bit the bullet again... blowing a 3 run lead. And, they just couldn't come back. Last year, 2 runs down was nothing. Now it looks like 20.

9 JohnnyC   ~  May 1, 2005 2:39 pm

9.  "The mismanagement of every facet of this team is becoming more obvious every day. What will it take for anyone in the front office or even the media to see it?"

markp, that's what happens when you spend the last 5 years living off 4 WS championships in 5 years. As Michael Kay pointed out yesterday (even he's subtly turning against the Great Pretender), the foolproof thing about having the same 3 guys pitch out of the bullpen every day is that the minute they fail, all the blame lands on those 3 guys...not on your idiotic use of them in the first place. So, it's tak, tsk, the bullpen's old and used up. Well, who did the using? And who hates pitchers under 35 so much that good arms from the farm system don't even have a shot at being properly developed. Yhency Brazoban, anyone? Today: why does any sane manager leave Pavano out there until bases are loaded and nobody out? After being scored on in the 3 previous innings and basically acting like a pinata for the Blue Jays? Why does any sane manager believe that the best pitcher to bring into such a hopeless situation would be Quantrill whose K's per 9 IP is south of Cy Young's? Even John Gibbons would have chosen to take the starter out BEFORE a bases loaded situation, picked the best match up out of 6 relievers available and then mixed and matched from thereon. Considering this was the last game of a terrible homestand and the rubber game in a series against a division rival, I would have used everyone. Remember, outside of Gordon, no one had been used much in the last week. They were all available. But, this leads us back to Torre's "Culture of Trust," the thing that will make 2005 an even more painful rerun of the past four seasons. On the other hand, we can always hope that the team will start to "play smarter" soon. Any day now.

10 seamus   ~  May 1, 2005 3:27 pm

10.  torre is driving me mad. how could he bring in Quantrill of all people in that situation? Quantrill can be productive in the right situation but bases loaded and no one out is not it. I don't get it.

11 brockdc   ~  May 1, 2005 3:45 pm

11.  I agree. Yet again, abysmal game management by Torre. Admittedly, there were few options at that point, but everyone and his mother knows that Quantrill comes into every game averaging more than a hit an inning. I think Quantrill can still be effective as a mop-up guy but no longer as a conduit to Rivera.

12 rbj   ~  May 1, 2005 4:09 pm

12.  Even I was screaming not to send A-Rod then. It was a long single but not more than that.

13 JohnnyC   ~  May 1, 2005 5:49 pm

13.  Oh, hell, why not? Let me bash Stottlemyre one more time. Apparently in his and Torre's dream world, a pitcher can essentially use the same pattern or approach to every batter, every inning, and every game. Pavano was not sharp today but...no pitcher who ever lived brought his best stuff to the mound every single time. You grind it out, improvise, cross your fingers and most importantly avoid the batters' strengths. If you face the same team within living memory of the last time you faced them (I suppose Stottlemyre thinks the Blue Jays short term memory stops at 10 days), you pitch them differently, maybe even backwards, changeup instead of fastball in fastball counts, curves instead of sliders, etc. In short, don't be predictable. Pavano, simply put, was predictable and the Blue Jays had a game plan. Ricciardi didn't fire his hitting coach for no reason this week, pardner. Some people in management actually work. George, you should have your people look into that concept.

14 markp   ~  May 1, 2005 6:29 pm

14.  Gordon and Stanton have appeared in 12 out of 25 games. That comes to 78 games in a 162 game season. Meanwhile Karsay has appeared in the same amount of games as Tanyon Sturtze. When Stanton is in twice as many games as Steve Karsay...

But that's just one of a host of things of equal illogic. For a while he wasn't horrible. But what appears to be dementia to me has escalated in recent seasons. From leading off Soriano (and having Jeter sacrifice a lot of the time if he managed to get on base) to the horrific use of Benitez (2 innings for three games in a row followed by a day off and then do it all again) and subsequently trading him for a washed up Jeff Nelson (because he couldn't handle NY), Uncle Joe has gotten away with one incomprehensible decision after another unlike anyone I've ever seen.

15 JeremyM   ~  May 1, 2005 8:46 pm

15.  Hey, Gordon needs all that work to get his confidence back. He didn't fall apart last season because of overwork, it was his confidence. And Karsay is still working his way back from injury, he needs his rest, come on. And Sojo is just trying to stretch out some legs, that's why he keeps sending runners to impending doom. He's just whipping them into shape for the stretch run. (Rumor is the Boss is impressed and wants him to help guide his Kentucky Derby entrant.)

Joe Torre has outlived his usefulness as the manager of the New York Yankees. I hate to say that because I respect the hell out of him as a person, but he's regressed terribly. I was really hoping Girardi would be a good influence, but I don't see it.

16 Adam B   ~  May 2, 2005 1:46 am

16.  I love the title also.

As for the Yankees, yeah, coaching is killing them. Put Neil Allen as the pitching coach. I'm sure there's someone in the minor leagues who can coach rationally, unlike Torre these days. Quantrill in that situation is wrong. Gordon in 2 straight? What happened to Felix Rodriguez? Quantrill's K/9 is down miserably, which is probably a combo of the knee injury from early last year, age and Mel Stottlemyre. For those who don't know what I mean about Mel, read: http://futilityinfielder.com/blog/2005/04/mystery-stottlemyre-theater.shtml

What's funny is that the Red Sox and Yankees both are getting on base well, but slugging way below their norms. And both teams are struggling to do well. With the Yankees it looks like it's mostly Sheffield's, Matsui's, and Jorge's lack of power that's hurting the lineup right now. This is not a team that can win with a bunch of singles and walks. Maybe the Yankees are hoping that they can trade Stanton if he looks decent numbers wise, and as such want to get him a bunch of innings to minimize the impact of a few bad outing on his ERA?

Well, atleast at this rate Mo will have a restful year. Jorge needs more rest than he's getting so that his legs will tire less and he'll have the drive from them. But once again, Torre's mismanaging that.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver