Foes Realize That Wang, With 17 Wins, Is That Good

Foes Realize That Wang, With 17 Wins, Is That Good


Published: September 10, 2006_The New York Times

BALTIMORE, Sept. 9 — Kevin Millar, the famously gabby first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, greeted his old friend Johnny Damon with an expletive during Saturday’s game against the Yankees. Millar was not mad; he was raving about Chien-Ming Wang, whose fastball, Millar exclaimed, was moving by a foot.

Damon said: “That’s good when other teams are saying that. When your fastball moves by a foot, that’s pretty sexy.”

In his latest sterling performance, Wang tamed the Orioles for seven and a third innings in a 3-2 victory at Camden Yards. He improved to 17-5, the same record as the Minnesota Twins’ Johan Santana. The two are tied for the major league lead in victories, and Millar did not seem surprised.

“He doesn’t have that strikeout pitch, but he doesn’t need it,” Millar said of Wang. “He throws ground ball after ground ball. He’s tough to elevate, and it’s tough to get a string of hits together. There’s nothing you can do. He’s one of the tougher ones. He’s been underrated for a long time.”

Wang, 26, is actually in his first full major league season, but his poise makes him seem like a veteran. When Nick Markakis scorched a liner off his backside in the fourth inning, Wang threw two warm-up pitches, stayed in the game and took a shutout into the seventh.

“He doesn’t get rattled out there,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “He just keeps coming.”

Mike Mussina carried the Yankees’ staff early this season, and Randy Johnson has pitched admirably considering his age — he turns 43 on Sunday — and the chronic pain in his back and his knee. But as the Yankees charge toward their ninth consecutive division title, Wang is their steadiest starter.

He allowed eight hits Saturday, but only one was for extra bases — a seventh-inning double by Millar, who scored on a single by Brandon Fahey. Wang issued no walks and struck out one, mixing in sliders to right-handers and splitters to left-handers.

“He throws the split enough, as a left-hander facing him, to keep you off balance,” said David Newhan, who went 0 for 3 against Wang. “He’s not afraid to bring it in, right on the corner, inside. He attacks the zone.”

With Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez out of the starting lineup, the Yankees managed only two runs in seven innings against Orioles starter Adam Loewen, who beat them twice last month.

The replacements at the bottom of the order started a rally in the fifth, with Kevin Thompson drawing a one-out walk and Nick Green singling. A single by Damon drove in Thompson, and Melky Cabrera’s sacrifice fly scored Green. Otherwise, Loewen was sharp.

“We didn’t have much success against him today, really,” said Derek Jeter, who singled in the third run against reliever Rodrigo López. “We just had Wang pitching.”

For the Yankees, Wang’s presence is almost enough. While Johnson has gotten an average of 7.69 runs per nine innings (the most in the American League), Wang has received fewer than six runs a game. He has won by scores of 1-0, 2-0 (twice), 2-1 and 3-2, and has reached 200 innings.

“We haven’t really given him a great deal of run support, which makes every single pitch precious,” Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. “But he has been something, and he does the whole thing, too. He plays defense. He’s a complete player for us, and he’s got a great personality to fit right in this clubhouse.”

As his English improves, Wang has become integrated into the clubhouse culture, taking regular needling from the third-base coach, Larry Bowa, among others. Wang still speaks softly with reporters, understanding questions and answering with humility.

Does he believe he has a chance to win the A.L. Cy Young award? “No,” Wang said, smiling and shaking his head.

What about winning 20 games? Wang has at least three starts remaining, and he did not dismiss his chances so readily. The way he is pitching, he knows he has a chance.

“Try,” he said.