Bombers flex muscles in opener
Despite Wang's struggles, New York's bats tee off vs. Sox
NEW YORK -- It could have been a reprisal of those sterling pitching performances filed by Chien-Ming Wang and Clay Buchholz last weekend at Fenway Park, kicking off the 2008 edition of Yankees vs. Red Sox in crisp, well-played fashion.
It most certainly was not. Yankee Stadium's opening edition of this classic rivalry showcased a different -- in recent years, more familiar and certainly more time-consuming -- version of baseball's favorite East Coast matchup.
The hits came early and often, as they will when these two offensive powerhouses decide to flex their best assets. It settled as a 15-9 Yankees victory on Wednesday, a slugfest affair that saw both starting pitchers knocked out early, leaving the bullpens to scrap it out.
"That's baseball," said Alex Rodriguez, who clubbed his 522nd homer in the win. "You never try to figure it out. You've got to come out and hope for the best. These are two good teams -- two heavyweight fighters. We're going to go at it all summer like we do every year."
The 24 combined runs were the most scored in a game by the Yankees and Red Sox at Yankee Stadium since July 7, 1954, when New York defeated Boston, 17-9, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Here in the present day, the decisive point came in the bottom of the fifth inning, when 20 runs were scored in the first five frames alone. Trailing, 9-7, the Yankees took the lead with four runs off eventual losing pitcher Julian Tavarez, as Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano contributed RBI hits to tie the game and Melky Cabrera legged out a fielder's choice to give New York the lead.
Neither starter fared well. The Yankees jumped on Buchholz for three runs in the first inning, including Rodriguez's homer, which moved him past Willie McCovey and Ted Williams for 15th place on baseball's all-time list. The solo shot came back-to-back with Bobby Abreu, who clubbed a two-run homer. Buchholz threw 85 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs on eight hits before being dispatched to the showers.
Five days after Wang twirled a complete-game two-hitter at Boston, the right-hander wasn't able to replicate his success, allowing that many hits -- and two runs -- in the first two innings alone. Struggling with his command, Wang went just four-plus innings before he was lifted as part of a six-run fifth, tying a career high by allowing eight runs on nine hits.
All five batters Wang faced in the inning reached base, and four came around to score, with Ross Ohlendorf relieving Wang following J.D. Drew's two-run single. Notorious for his favorable home record, it was the first time in Wang's Major League career that he was unable to complete five innings at Yankee Stadium.
"I couldn't find the strike zone and the sinker was running," Wang said. "They don't swing at the first pitch."
"It's hard to get upset with a sinkerballer when he's below the zone, because that's where you want him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The last couple of innings, he got the ball up in the zone. Maybe he overadjusted a little bit, but these are two very good hitting teams, and these kind of things can happen."
Sean Casey drilled an RBI single to left-center off Ohlendorf to tie the game, and Dustin Pedroia ripped a two-run single -- his second hit of the inning -- past a diving Rodriguez to give Boston a two-run advantage that would not hold up.
After slumbering through most of their first two weeks offensively, the Yankees may finally be catching fire, a fact that some attribute to more hospitable weather. There wasn't much to go around on New York's initial homestand, nor in road stops in Kansas City and Boston, but two nights under the climate-controlled roof of Tropicana Field appear to have warmed the bats.
"I think the difference was we could feel our faces and toes," said Jason Giambi, who went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, scoring twice.
Every Yankees starter on Wednesday had at least one hit and eight drove in a run, including understudy catcher Chad Moeller, who went 3-for-4 to raise his average to .400 since joining New York as a replacement for the injured tandem of Jorge Posada and Jose Molina.
"It doesn't put a whole lot of pressure on you," Moeller said. "It's a nice feeling to know that they have me back there really to catch, and everything else is a true bonus. They like to say it, but normally they don't really mean it. Here, it's the truth."
In their last three games, all wins, the Yankees have batted .342 (39-for-114) as a team, scoring 28 runs and raising their club average by 19 points.
"I like seeing it, I know that," Girardi said. "We've had a little bit better conditions, for one. It's not 36 and raining every day. It was nice to go inside a dome for a change and not have to put a ton of clothes on. Maybe that had something to do with it and got the guys going."
Provided with the lead, New York's bullpen outpitched Boston's, nailing the victory down and allowing Girardi to stay away from closer Mariano Rivera -- which is crucial, especially with setup man Joba Chamberlain still tending to his ailing father in Nebraska.
Winning pitcher LaTroy Hawkins retired six of the seven batters he faced and Brian Bruney recorded the final five outs to log his first save since July 27, 2005.
"It shows that we can win games when your ace isn't on," Bruney said. "This shows once these guys get going, they can put a lot of runs on real quick. We're not worried about Wang. We know he'll bounce back, but it was important to go out there and win."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.