"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Nice n’ Easy Does It

The Yankees won the first game of today’s double header with ease, thanks to yet another stellar pitching performance by the Big Easy himself, Chien-Ming Wang. Wang didn’t allow a man past first base in his first seven innings, scattering just four baserunners. Carlos Guillen walked in the second and was thrown out stealing thanks to yet another perfect throw from Jorge Posada. Brandon Inge and Alexis Gomes singled in the third and sixth respectively, both on groundballs just beyond Alex Rodriguez’s reach at third (Alex also made a couple of nice stops, one to his left, one to his right). Finally, Sean Casey reached on an error in the fifth when a sinking throw from Derek Jeter skipped through Craig Wilson’s legs at first (Jeter got the error).

With Wang dominating, the Yankees got all they needed in the bottom of the fifth when Wilson, making up for the play on Casey, drilled a 1-0 pitch from lefty Nate Robertson deep into the left field box seats to start the inning. Johnny Damon then drew a seven-pitch walk (the only one Robertson issued all day), Jeter singled him to third, and Jason Giambi plated him with a sac fly to make it 2-0.

And that’s how it ended. On to start the eighth inning having already thrown 97 pitches, Wang got Casey to ground out on his first pitch, the 13th Tiger groundout of the day. He then walked Neifi! Perez on five pitches and nearly threw away a 0-1 pitch to Inge (nice backhand stop by Posada) before getting him to fly out to Damon. Curtis Granderson followed by getting the first fly ball hit of the game, a double that split Damon and Cabrera in the left field gap and pushed Neifi! to third. Joe Torre then called on Scott Proctor who got pinch-hitter Magglio Ordoñez to fly out on his first pitch to end the inning. Mariano Rivera worked around a two-out single by righty-hitting switch-hitter Carlos Guillen for a 14-pitch ninth and that was that.

The Yankees now have an 8 game lead in the AL East (nine in the loss column) and are just two games behind Detroit for the Major Leagues’ best record. Wang, meanwhile, won his 16th game, tying him for the major league lead, and has been dominant in his last two outings despite now having thrown thirty more innings than his previous career high.

What’s more, the Yankee bullpen remains rested for tonight’s nightcap. After two days off thanks to last night’s rain out, Scott Proctor has thrown one pitch and Mariano Rivera has thrown 14. No one else even warmed up during this afternoon’s game. Mo won’t be available, but Torre has everyone else ready to go for tonight’s game, which pits Jaret Wright against Wilfredo Ledezma.

Wright has been terrible in his last two starts, but they were separated by eight days and two relief appearances. That is to say, the most recent could be excused due to rust, while the one prior to that was a scheduled disaster after three straight wins in which he allowed just one run per game. Not that I expect much from him tonight.

Ledezma, meanwhile, is a busted starting prospect who has finally put it together out of the bullpen at age 25. Ledezma has made just one other start this year, holding the powerful Indians offense scoreless on a pair of walks and six hits over 5 2/3 innings earlier in the month. In his most recent appearance, five days ago, he held the defending World Champion White Sox scoreless in four innings of relief, thus stealing the rotation spot of that day’s starting pitcher, Zach Miner (1 1/3 IP, 6 R in that game). Ledezma also posted a 2.52 ERA in twelve starts with triple-A Toledo with a 2.87 K/BB ratio. Could be he’s not a busted prospect, but merely a delayed one. Lord help the AL if the Tigers come up with yet another dominant young pitcher.

Incidentally, Ledezma is no URP (Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcher). The Yanks tagged him for seven runs in four innings in the Bronx last May. In that game, both Posada and Rodriguez took Ledezma deep, Rodriguez twice. Of course, Ledezma appears to have been a different pitcher last year, when he struggled both in the majors and at triple-A, than this year, when he’s dominated both.

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