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08/30/07 1:45 AM ET
Yankees seek sweep behind Wang
Boston (80-53) at New York (74-59), Thursday, 1:05 p.m. ET
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
Just like that, Chien-Ming Wang doesn't seem so young anymore.
He's always pitched well beyond his years, ever since arriving in the Bronx as a collected 25-year-old in 2005. But since he's become the ace of a staff that includes 21-year-old Phil Hughes and, now, 22-year-old Ian Kennedy, Wang has had to assume an even greater maturity.
He's now a relatively elder statesman, trailing just Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in years -- but pitching just as well, if not better, than both of them.
And while Wang is still just 27, he's certainly not young.
"Not anymore, he isn't," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "Our expectations of him are pretty high."
Which means that when Wang takes the mound with a shot at a critical series sweep -- as he will against the Red Sox on Thursday afternoon -- the Yankees expect him to win. And why not? He's started 24 games, and the Yankees have lost just six of them -- only one per month for each of the last three months. He's already seen the Red Sox three times this year, and beaten them twice.
Yet those three starts were all completed by June 1, and while games at that early stage of the year count just as much in the standings, they don't usually weigh as much on the psyche. A win -- and a sweep -- would push the Yankees almost as close to the Red Sox as they were a week and a half ago, whereas a loss would wash away half the work they completed in the first two games of the series.
Thursday's task of taking down Red Sox starter Curt Schilling won't be easy -- but then again, neither was defeating Josh Beckett on Wednesday or Daisuke Matsuzaka the night before.
"Everyone you look at these three days is special," Torre said of the Boston rotation. "They've got some horses they can throw out there."
Schilling remains a vital part of that stable, even as he ventures well past 40 years old. He's recovered from a three-game losing streak to now win two straight, and like Wang, he holds the hopes of his team on his shoulders.
There may ultimately be more hyped games to come, as the Yankees become more and more likely to train their sights on the American League Wild Card. But dismissing any game's importance at this time of year would be a critical mistake.
"There's 30 games left," Torre said, "and we're going to try to go out there and win every one."
BOS: RHP Curt Schilling (8-5, 4.11 ERA)
NYY: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (15-6, 3.95 ERA)
Wang bounced back from two rough starts to give the Yankees two solid ones, lasting eight innings in a win at Detroit last week. If he can beat the Red Sox, it would mark the fourth time this season that he's had a winning streak of at least three games. Wang has been shaky in three starts against the Red Sox this year, allowing nearly two baserunners per inning, but still managing to win two of his three starts.
Schilling has allowed five earned runs all three times he's faced the Yankees this season. Twice, the team has won -- though the right-hander was long gone on both occasions. And while wins are the bottom line, Schilling can't be encouraged by the fact that the Yankees are hitting him at a .372 clip.
Player to watch
David Ortiz hasn't had much trouble lifting Wang's sinker skyward, having clubbed two homers in 24 career at-bats off the right-hander. He's also amassed 10 other hits -- pushing his average off Wang to .500 -- and walked five times.
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Friday: Devil Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 3-9, 6.38) at Yankees (Phil Hughes, 2-2, 5.35), 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday: Devil Rays (TBD) at Yankees (Ian Kennedy, Major League debut), 1:05 p.m. ET
Sunday: Devil Rays (TBD) at Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 12-7, 3.70), 1:05 p.m. ET