Melky's go-ahead shot picks up Wang
Fourth game-winning hit seals victory over Rangers
NEW YORK -- When justifying his decision to reinsert Chien-Ming Wang into his starting rotation, Yankees manager Joe Girardi likes to allude to the 46 games Wang won for the team over two-plus wildly productive seasons. But Wang has not won a game for the Yankees this year.
Melky Cabrera has essentially won four.
The latest of those came Thursday afternoon, when Cabrera's tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning diverted the attention of 45,713 fans from Wang's inconsistencies, and toward the left-field wall. There, Cabrera's shot landed just out of reach of leaping left fielder David Murphy, sending the Yankees to an 8-6 win over the Rangers.
"He has a knack for doing that," Girardi said.
It's a knack that began to take shape on April 22, when Cabrera hit a walk-off home run against the A's in the 14th inning at Yankee Stadium. It continued on May 15, when he hit a walk-off single against the Twins with the Yankees down to their final out. And it kept rolling on May 23, when Cabrera's walk-off double earned him the vaunted championship belt and another pie to the face.
There was no dessert this time -- Cabrera and the Yankees still had to go about the business of recording the final three outs. But once Mariano Rivera wrapped up that formality, the Yankees spent the rest of their afternoon lauding a player who has had to earn every at-bat he's received this season.
"What can you say about Melky?" first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "He's always coming through for us."
The Yankees are aching for the day when they can say the same about Wang, who averted his fourth loss when Teixeira poked a three-run double off the end of his bat in the fifth inning, giving Wang a no-decision. But if nothing else, Thursday's start served as proof that Wang can still pitch like the man who won 46 games from the start of the 2006 season through his assignment to the disabled list in May 2008.
Making his first start since his more recent stint on the disabled list this year, Wang began attacking Ian Kinsler with mid-90s sinkers from the game's opening moments. He struck out three of the first six batters he faced, keeping the ball down in the zone and generally looking like an ace once again.
But the Rangers began hacking in the third inning, scoring twice, continuing their progress into the fourth and the fifth. By that time, Wang's signature pitch had started tailing instead of sinking, and the Rangers were taking advantage -- Chris Davis yanked a two-run double into right field on a sinker that stayed up, and Nelson Cruz blasted a solo homer in the fifth on a similar pitch.
That was Wang's 69th and final pitch of the game, and one that he'd rather forget.
Yet he left Thursday's game encouraged, even emboldened by his progress.
"I'm the same as I was a couple of years ago," Wang said after the game.
The same, with one minor twist: his endurance is not quite where it once was, resulting in bouts of inconsistency and those deadly tailing sinkers. Increasing pitch counts -- he's penciled in for about 90 next week in Boston -- should allow Wang to regain more of his previous form.
But hardly expecting everything to fall in place in one day, the Yankees instead latched onto what Wang had accomplished against a formidable Rangers offense.
"I saw him down in the zone," pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "I saw a lot of sink."
"Excellent, excellent," catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "He focused and drove the sinker down."
And he handed the ball off to the near-perfect bullpen quartet of Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, David Robertson and Rivera, which combined to pitch 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball. The lone run, a Kinsler homer off Aceves with two outs in the sixth, tied the game after Alex Rodriguez had singled home a go-ahead run for the Yankees in the fifth.
The teams then traded zeros until the eighth inning, when Cabrera launched C.J. Wilson's 1-1 pitch over the left-field wall for the game-winner. It was Cabrera's fifth go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later this season, helping the Yankees to their 19th come-from-behind victory. And the hit came from the right side -- the switch-hitting Cabrera's clear weak side -- of the plate.
It's just another chapter in the story that saw Cabrera drop down to Triple-A last summer, lose his Spring Training battle with Brett Gardner for the starting center-field position, then spend the first two months of this season forcing his way back into the lineup.
Game-winning hits have proved a surefire way for Cabrera to do just that.
"He went to winter ball on a mission," Girardi said. "He came to Spring Training on a mission. He didn't like being sent down."
But he rather likes this.
"I was down, but I never put my head down," Cabrera said through an interpreter. "And that was basically it."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.