Wang outdone by Beckett in Boston
Yanks' ace chased in sixth inning; deficit back to 5 1/2 games
BOSTON -- On an afternoon when Josh Beckett freely gassed batters with swing-and-miss stuff, the more soft-spoken Chien-Ming Wang was unable to make much of a statement.
While Beckett three-hit the Yankees over seven innings, Wang -- also a front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award -- had his troubles with the Red Sox, taking the loss in a 10-1 Yankees defeat on Saturday afternoon.
"You know, it wasn't one of his great days," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "What can I say? Beckett was great. He came at us and kept coming at us, and we couldn't mount any kind of offense."
Wang had heard some of the whispers about how his mid-September showdown in the creeping shadows at Fenway Park could help influence voting, but it is a postseason berth -- not awards -- that the Yankees must harbor the most concern about.
With five Boston runs home in 5 2/3 innings, it was a bad day to have a bad day.
"Sometimes, I lost my control," Wang said. "Other times, they got hits."
The Yankees can call a relatively steady 2 1/2-game lead their own in the AL Wild Card race, but they have insisted upon dangling heartier aspirations toward the division, making up some emotional ground with a miraculous comeback on Friday night that made some wonder if nothing was impossible.
Yet if that carrot was to be reached, a three-game New England sweep -- shades of last season's five-game Boston Massacre -- would have made New York's most damaging dent in the AL East deficit, which returned to 5 1/2 games.
"Certainly, it would have made it more reasonable," Torre said of a win on Saturday. "In this game, anybody is capable of losing three or four in a row, or winning three or four in a row. Things turn real quickly."
That much is certain. The Yankees' six-run eighth-inning rally on Friday created little carryover -- in this case, momentum only being as good as the way the offense could handle the next day's starting pitcher.
Beckett made that a difficult proposition. Allowing a solo home run to Derek Jeter in the top of the first but otherwise quieting New York in a seven-inning, seven-strikeout performance, Beckett became baseball's first 19-game winner this season and helped Boston to its largest margin of victory against the Yankees since a 14-3 drubbing last May 9.
"You have to get to him early and get some mistakes, because once he establishes strikes and starts throwing everything, he can work both sides of the plate," said Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi. "That's the biggest thing."
Meanwhile, Wang -- who usually showcases a diving sinker to induce opponents into pounding ground balls to his infielders -- again altered his game plan slightly for the Red Sox, mixing in more sliders and changeups.
But the tweaks didn't take hold, as Wang had slightly more run on his pitches than he wanted. Recording just six of 17 outs on the ground, Wang seemed unable to command the zone, surrendering runs in the first and fifth innings before losing control in the sixth.
"His stuff wasn't as good, as consistent," Torre said. "They're pretty patient, this ballclub. When [Wang] has trouble throwing strikes, a lot of times it's just that his stuff has a lot of movement. He just can't keep it in the strike zone."
Wang was lifted with two outs in the troublesome sixth inning, in which he allowed run-scoring hits to rookie Jacoby Ellsbury and a two-run double to perennial thorn David Ortiz -- hard hits in an inning that also featured a jarring home-plate collision between Jorge Posada and Boston's Eric Hinske, who was called out and left the catcher with a lingering headache that had him sent to Massachusetts General Hospital for precautionary reasons. CT scans taken of Posada's head and neck came back negative.
Posada's friend Jeter expressed little concern, saying that his buddy had a "hard head." Torre deemed the play clean, explaining that Hinske had gone in hard.
"That was just one of those bang-bangers," he said. "We had the infield playing halfway, just hoping we could get a ground ball. We didn't want to play all the way in, because we didn't want to cut down our chances to get an out."
Wang's nine-hit, three-walk performance also featured another potential chapter in the ongoing saga between New York and Boston, one that could have legs as the two teams finalize their 2007 regular-season slate on Sunday. Kevin Youkilis started the sixth-inning rally when one of Wang's 97 pitches inadvertently created a contusion on the first baseman's right wrist.
It was the sixth time in the last two seasons that Youkilis had been drilled by a Yankees pitcher, not including two near-misses by Joba Chamberlain in the teams' last New York meeting.
Both benches were warned by home-plate umpire Gary Cederstrom in the seventh inning, when Beckett came back in and hit Giambi on the right elbow with a pitch -- viewed as retaliation for Wang's drilling of Youkilis earlier in the game, but by the Yankees, not as sound baseball judgment.
"You know what? We didn't hit Youkilis on purpose," Giambi said. "It was a 1-2 pitch, and you've got Papi [on deck] -- like he hasn't done enough damage against us. But I respect it. That's the way I play the game. I don't worry about it."
Boston tacked on three additional runs against the New York bullpen in the seventh, sending 10 men to the plate against five Yankees relievers, who let the game get out of hand. Coco Crisp greeted Brian Bruney with an RBI ground-rule double, and Ellsbury touched Sean Henn for a two-run single before rookie Ross Ohlendorf, making his second Major League appearance, walked in a run.
With just 14 games separating the Yankees from the final outs of the regular season, and just nine regulation innings left head-to-head with Boston, odds would appear to be overwhelming that New York's best chance of continuing its string of postseason appearances lies within the Wild Card.
Still, the Yankees don't appear ready to concede the division until the laws of mathematics insist they must.
"We're trying to win every day," Jeter said. "That's the approach we have to have. A couple weeks from now, we'll see what happens."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.