The slugger homered and drove in a season-high five runs, helping Chien-Ming Wang overcome a shaky first inning to win his seventh straight decision with a 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Saturday night.
“I’m starting to hit with runners in scoring position,” said Abreu, who has two homers, two doubles and eight RBIs in three games since the All-Star break.
“The first half of the season, I was very bad with runners in scoring position,” he added after extending his hitting streak to nine games. “I think a game like this is going to help me to carry on.”
If anyone is skeptical of what Abreu means to the Yankees, consider this: He’s batting .377 with six homers and 40 RBIs in New York’s 44 wins, as opposed to .158 with one homer and nine RBIs in the team’s 44 losses.
“He’s as good as they come,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “Obviously we’re much better when he’s going like this.”
Wang (10-4) allowed seven hits and three runs in six innings to improve to 9-1 with two no-decisions over his last 12 starts. Four of Tampa Bay’s first five batters had hits off the right-hander, staking Sonnanstine to a 3-0 lead with the only first-inning runs Wang has surrendered in his past nine starts.
Carlos Pena hit his 21st homer for Tampa Bay in the eighth inning, a solo shot off Kyle Farnsworth that trimmed New York’s lead to 5-4. The Yankees didn’t have much margin for error in the ninth until Abreu’s RBI double off Shawn Camp restored a two-run lead.
Mariano Rivera came on to get the final three outs to move past John Franco for third place on the career saves list with 425. It was Rivera’s 12th save in 14 opportunities this season.
“It feels good,” Rivera said. “But the most important thing is we won the game.”
Wang, who hadn’t allowed a first-inning run since a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on May 26, gave up singles to Akinori Iwamura and Brendan Harris and doubles to Pena and Delmon Young before settling to retire 14 of 15 while the Yankees were coming from behind.
“He’s very good,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We jumped him early. He may have been a little bit off, based on the (All-Star) break, but after that he started looking like his old self.”
Pena’s two-run double was the big blow in the Devil Rays’ first, and Young— the major league rookie hits leader with 103—made it 3-0. Iwamura singled again in the second, but the Devil Rays didn’t get another hit off Wang until Young and B.J. Upton singled with two outs in the sixth.
New York loaded the bases with one out in the third, but only scored once— when Abreu hit a sharp grounder to short that Tampa Bay should have turned into an inning-ending double play. But the Yankees right fielder hustled up the line to beat second baseman Ty Wigginton’s throw to first to get credited with an RBI.
Matsui homered for the fifth time in eight games to trim New York’s deficit to 3-2 in the fourth. Abreu’s second homer in three nights, and seventh of the season, put the Yankees ahead 4-3 in the fifth.
Wang retired 12 in a row before running into trouble in the sixth, when Young and Upton singled for Tampa Bay with two outs. The Yankees starter hit Wigginton with a pitch to load the bases, but struck out Jonny Gomes to hang on to the one-run lead.
Johnny Damon singled and Jeter doubled to end Sonnanstine’s night with one out in the seventh. Abreu hit a hard liner to second that Wigginton knocked down before getting the out at first as Damon scored to make it 5-3.
Sonnanstine allowed nine hits and five runs in 6 1-3 innings. He walked one and struck out three.
Wang struck out six and walked none. … The Yankees have hit seven homers in the first three games of the four-game series, six of them solo shots. … Iwamura snapped an 0-for-15 skid with his first-inning single. … Yankees LF Melky Cabrera was not in the lineup because of flu-like symptoms but came in as a defensive replacement in the ninth. … Pena’s two-run double extended his hitting streak to a season-best 11 games, one shy of his career high set from Sept. 8-21, 2002. … Sonnanstine has allowed 11 homers over his first eight major league starts.