With Chien-Ming Wang at the top of the New York Yankees’ pitching staff and two 19-game winners headlining the Cleveland Indians’ rotation, it’s no surprise to see a matchup of aces when the two teams get together.
The Indians just had no idea Cliff Lee would be pitching like one as well.
Lee, sent to the minors last year but leading the majors in ERA this year, looks to continue his stunning start on Wednesday in New York against Wang and the Yankees in a battle of pitchers who are a combined 11-0.
But while Sabathia is still rounding into form after a woeful start and Carmona is struggling with his control, it’s been Lee (5-0, 0.96 ERA) who’s been not only the Indians’ best pitcher, but arguably baseball’s best as well.
He was named the AL’s pitcher of the month on Saturday. Lee is the first pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1997 to win his first five starts with an ERA under 1.00.
“I’m happy with how things have gone,” said Lee, who has a 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. “My job is to give the team a chance to win, and I feel like I’ve done that every time I went out there. We’ve won - that’s the goal.”
Lee’s previous visits to Yankee Stadium haven’t gone so well. He’s 1-2 with an 8.79 ERA in three career starts in the Bronx.
Cleveland won its AL Division Series in New York last October, and picked up where it left off in its first trip back on Tuesday night. The Indians trailed the Yankees (17-17) by a run in the eighth, but pinch hitter David Dellucci hit a three-run homer off star reliever Joba Chamberlain to help Cleveland avoid its third straight loss.
“We needed somebody to step up for us,” manager Eric Wedge said, “with the way things have been going.”
The Indians came into the game hitting .242, among the lowest averages in the AL, and had hit .165 in their previous three games.
But Chamberlain, a sensation in the bullpen since being called up in August, has had plenty of problems facing Cleveland. Including the postseason, Chamberlain is 0-1 with a 5.19 ERA and two blown saves against the Indians. He’s 3-1 with a 0.84 ERA against everyone else.
Wang (6-0, 3.00) didn’t have any similar problems when he tossed seven stellar innings in Cleveland as the Yankees won 1-0 on April 27. He followed that by allowing one run on three hits over six innings as New York rolled over Seattle 5-1 on Friday.
“I think you feel really good when he takes the mound,” manager Joe Girardi told the team’s official Web site. “He’s won 38 games the last two years. Obviously, when Chien-Ming Wang takes the mound, you feel good about your chances.”
Wang’s job should be easier if he doesn’t have to face Indians catcher Victor Martinez on Wednesday. Martinez, who leads the AL with a .347 average, was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup due to a stiff neck and is listed as day-to-day.
Matsui is hitting .414 (12-for-29) in the seven games Rodriguez has missed, and has hit safely in 15 straight contests.