Chien-Ming Wang looked like his old self over the first couple of innings Thursday afternoon. His sinker was clocking in at 94 miles per hour on the YES gun and showing good drop, and after striking out two men in his perfect first inning, his second frame went groundout, groundout, strikeout.
Things started to flatten out in the third, however, when Chris Davis led off with a ground rule double. The Rangers eeked out two runs in that frame, then added two more in the fourth when Davis again doubled, this time with two on and none out. In the fifth, Nelson Cruz crushed a pitch up in the zone into the visiting bullpen, driving Wang from the game 11 pitches shy of his intended limit of 80. Wang’s final line was 4 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K, but that more than halved his season ERA (to 14.46), and 13 of his 14 outs came by strikeout or groundout. Those first two innings were worth building on, and he’ll take his next turn in Boston on Tuesday.
As for the Yankees, Johnny Damon led off the bottom of the first with a home run off Brandon McCarthy, but the Yanks couldn’t get much going for the next few innings while the Rangers were running up the tally on Wang.
After failing to plate a leadoff double by Mark Teixeira in the fourth, the Yankees entered the bottom of the fifth down 5-1 with Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Peña due up. Surprisingly both rookie singled after which McCarthy walked Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher to give the Yankees their second run. Teixeira then hit a cue shot down the third base line that skipped under Michael Young’s glove and rattled around in foul territory near where the stands bend, giving all three runners time to score and tie the game on what looks like a ringing bases-clearing double in the box score. With Teixeira on second and still none out in the inning, Alex Rodriguez silenced the boo birds that had begun to chirp by singling Tex home with the go-ahead run.
Unfortunately, that lead only lasted a few minutes, as Ian Kinsler homered off Alfredo Aceves (and the left field foul pole) in the top of the sixth to tie the game at 6-6. Aceves, Phil Coke, David Robertson, and Texas’s Jason Jennings combined to keep the score there until the bottom of the eighth, when Ron Washington brought in lefty C.J. Wilson. Wilson had been throwing high-90s cheese in his scoreless 1 2/3 innings Wednesday night, but didn’t have the same snap on his pitches less than 24 hours later. Wilson walked Robinson Cano on four pitches to start the eighth, then after getting Hideki Matsui to fly out, floated a changeup to Melky Cabrera.
Melky deposited the pitch in the left field box seats for yet another big late-inning hit, and Mariano Rivera nailed down the 8-6 win in the ninth. The Yankees are now tied with the Red Sox, who also won on Thursday, atop the AL East with the best record in the American League. They’ll be in Boston next week, with Wang opening the series.
As for Melky, the home run was just one of a litany of key late-game hits by Cabrera that have helped the Yankees to comeback wins this season. Melky is hitting .346/.407/.365 in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings combined, and .464/.484/.571 in “late and close” situations (defined as the seventh inning or later with the Yankees tied, ahead by one, or with the tying run on base, at the plate, or in the on-deck circle).
Here’s a list of his biggest hits thus far this season:
- April 22, vs. A’s: Two-run walk-off homer off Dan Giese in the bottom of the 14th.
- April 30, vs. Angels: Tie-breaking bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 8th leads to a 7-4 win.
- May 1, vs. Angels: Bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the eighth starts the scoring as the Yankees score six runs in the final two innings to win 10-9.
- May 15, vs. Twins: Walk-off bases-loaded single off Joe Nathan plates tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth.
- May 23, vs. Phillies: Walk-off single off Brad Lidge in the bottom of the ninth plates tie-breaking run.
- June 4, vs. Rangers: Two-run, tie-breaking homer in bottom of the eighth leads to 8-6 win.
Note that all of those hits came at home. Melky is hitting .329/.383/.541 at the new Yankee Stadium, but just .288/.333/.339 on the road. Still, even that road line beats what he did for the Yankees last year (.249/.301/.341 with very similar home and road performances), and as the above list shows, he’s delievered five late-inning game winning hits. Still, he’s just fifth on the Yankees in Win Probability Added, behind Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira (whose bases-clearing double was every bit as important to Thursday’s win as Cabrera’s homer), Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada.