The Yankees’ Game 1 Pitcher? Wang. The Lineup? All Stars.

September 28, 2006

Yankees 16, Orioles 5

The Yankees’ Game 1 Pitcher? Wang. The Lineup? All Stars.


Published : September 28, 2006_The new York Times

There were 20 uniformed players on the field at Yankee Stadium for the national anthem last night. Eleven were All-Stars from the Staten Island team that played in the Little League World Series last month. Eight were Yankees, all current or former All-Stars.

The exception was Chien-Ming Wang, the starting pitcher, who finished his first full major league season with a 16-5 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Wang has never made the All-Star team, but the Yankees are counting on him heavily.

Wang’s next start will come Tuesday in the opener of the American League division series, with a potentially devastating lineup behind him. Manager Joe Torre named Wang the Game 1 starter before the game, and he said Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson would follow.

The lineup, Torre conceded, will take longer to become definite. But last night, Torre tried an order so potent that the No. 9 hitter, Robinson Canó, is second in the American League in hitting.

“It’s a lineup that you dream of,” said Johnny Damon, who hit one of the Yankees’ five homers. “You can go up and down the lineup, and everyone’s an All-Star. Wow. I haven’t seen a lineup like this. It’s pretty special.”

The return of Jason Giambi made the lineup whole. Giambi had missed a week to rest his aching left wrist, and he ripped a two-run homer down the right-field line in his first at-bat and drove in four runs.

The home run was Giambi’s first since Aug. 20, just before his injury. He taped the wrist last night to limit movement, and the results were encouraging.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better day to come back,” Giambi said.

Jorge Posada, the No. 8 hitter, chased Kris Benson from the game with a three-run homer in the third inning. Damon built on his career high in homers when he hit his 24th in the fourth.

When asked if this was his deepest lineup ever, Torre, who has won four titles with the Yankees, said it was.

“It’s pretty darn good right now,” Torre said. “We have a guy named Bernie Williams sitting on the bench. We have Melky Cabrera, who’s not in the lineup. We have some pleasant problems to solve before next Tuesday.”

The makeup of the rotation was never in much doubt, especially after Johnson decided to skip his final start — scheduled for tonight — because of back spasms.

Because Johnson will take extra time to rest, he will start the third game, on the road, where he was 10-5 this season. Torre explained that Wang and Mussina pitched better at home, where the Yankees will play for the first two games. Wang is 11-3 at home, and Mussina is 8-2.

Wang, who is 19-6 over all, has been the Yankees’ best starter and is tied with Minnesota’s Johan Santana for the major league lead in victories. He pitched well in the division series last season, despite losing his start in Game 2.

The only possible concern for the Yankees would seem to be the blisters on Wang’s fingers, the result of throwing his signature pitch, the sinker. Wang pushes off the seams of the ball with his index and middle fingers, creating the blisters, and after the game last night, he had a small Band-Aid covering the tip of his middle finger.

Wang said he had done this the past three starts and was not worried. As for the Game 1 assignment, he said he would “maybe get a little bit nervous,” but he also said that he was excited.

Wang and Canó represent an important change in the Yankees’ makeup. Their promotions early last season helped revive the Yankees after a listless start. Both have performed better than the Yankees first expected, showing talent and poise.

Canó’s two-run homer into the upper deck in the sixth inning gave him 50 runs batted in since coming off the disabled list Aug. 8. No major leaguer has more since then. Canó went 1 for 3, keeping his average at .343, 7 points behind Joe Mauer of the Twins.

That kind of production is hard to hide in the No. 9 spot, and Torre said it might not be permanent. In a scouting meeting Tuesday, Torre told the team that the lineup was still a work in progress.

“The roster probably won’t take until Monday to decide, but the lineup probably will,” Torre said. “I told the players, ‘We have a lot of talented players here, and I don’t know what the lineup will be; just understand that.’ ”

The first performance of this version — with Williams and Cabrera on the bench and Gary Sheffield at first base — could not have been much better. The Yankees set a season high in homers while collecting 18 hits.

Wang lasted six innings, allowing 10 hits and 4 runs. Mariano Rivera relieved him with a scoreless seventh, his third shutout inning since returning to action last Friday.

Rivera missed the first three weeks of September with a muscle strain near his right elbow. But he has felt fine and pitched effectively since returning, a comforting sign for a confident team.


With a crowd of 53,040, the Yankees exceeded four million fans for the second consecutive season. The only other major league team to do that was the Toronto Blue Jays in 1991 and 1992. ...Rob Thomson, the Yankees’ special-assignment instructor, coached first base last night in place of Tony Peña, who learned before the game that his father had died.

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