Change of pace ends Wang's bid
Perfect game spoiled on righty's first changeup vs. Mariners
NEW YORK -- On Friday, the Yankees' spirits loomed low after a 15-11 loss to the Mariners. But Chien-Ming Wang sat at his locker with a smile on his face as he talked with a reporter. He must have known Saturday would be special -- maybe even perfect.
Jorge Posada felt the first tingles of perfection when a full-count pitch whizzed by Raul Ibanez in the seventh inning. Wang had come back from a 3-0 count to strike Ibanez out. Before the big K, Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui chased down an Ichiro Suzuki deep fly ball toward the left-center-field gap, robbing the Mariners center fielder of extra bases. Something was up.
"I thought, 'There's something here,'" Posada said.
Whispers had long since begun floating through the crowd, through the press box, through the concession stands -- everywhere but the Yankees' dugout. There, Wang sat at the end of the bench. Alone.
Mariners utility man Willie Bloomquist started the game at third base to give Adrian Beltre a rest. He said the momentum and atmosphere in Yankee Stadium could be felt. Wang was on.
"A pitch looks like it's going to be down the heart of the plate, and then there's late movement," Bloomquist said. "The ball gets in on you and jams you."
The eighth inning came.
Hobbled by a sharp grounder taken off his left shin earlier in the game, Wang faced Richie Sexson. The plunk to his shin wasn't as bad as it seemed, though. Posada said it made Wang's sinker move more because he landed more softly out of the windup.
Maybe so. Sexson hit a dribbler right back to Wang. One out.
Then Ben Broussard stepped to the plate. The Mariners backup first baseman had appeared in only 10 games before this one. But in his 17th at-bat of the season, Broussard crossed paths with shadows of Yankees past -- the masterful perfect games turned in by David Cone (1998) and David Wells ('99).
Wang threw a fastball by Broussard, who didn't swing, didn't flinch. Strike one. Posada thought Broussard might be trying to time Wang's fastball, so he decided to call for a pitch he hadn't called to this point -- a changeup.
Posada said that Wang's changeups have been effective the entire season. Besides, a slow pitch with movement would counter Broussard's attempt to zero in on the right-hander's fastball.
Wang released the ball, and it traveled toward home plate. Like every pitch in that inning, eyes followed each rotation that the ball and its red seams made.
"I tried to throw it low," Wang said. "I got it higher."
It stayed up. It became a hitter's pitch. Posada couldn't get that call for a changeup out of his mind -- not even as he stood at his locker after the game.
"You never second-guess yourself," Posada said, "but after it happens, you do."
Wang lost his bid for a perfect game as Broussard drove the 0-1 pitch into the right-field stands. It came in front of a nationwide audience that leaned close to its boxed televisions, computer monitors and flat-screens.
Wang's eyes followed the ball. He even walked a few steps toward right field. He may have wanted to grab that ball out of some fan's hands and hit the rewind button. But he stopped. Then he turned back toward the plate.
Five outs short of perfection, Wang surrendered a second hit to Jose Guillen before getting out of the inning on a double-play grounder hit by Kenji Johjima.
Wang walked to the dugout, the crowd erupted and pitching coach Ron Guidry made his way over to Wang.
"If you're going to lose, think about losing on your best stuff," Guidry said he told him, with a couple of pats on the neck.
Congratulations kept coming. The Yankees' 8-1 victory seemed over at that point, as fans showed their appreciation to Wang.
Wang still has plenty of time to flirt with perfect games. He's just 27 years old. And even though few fans and non-fans alike thought about it, Broussard had himself a magical moment. He hit the ball, rounded the bases, ruined a perfect game and had sentiments of his own.
"That's my first home run in Yankee Stadium," he said. "Pretty special."
Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.