NEW YORK (AP)—Before Chien-Ming Wang’s latest gem, Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner gave a pointed assessment of the team’s sluggish start.
“We just can’t win one out of five games, every time Wang pitches,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s not going to work. It’s not a good win percentage. Starting pitching is where it’s at, especially in the postseason. At this point, we’ll see if we even make the postseason.”
Wang keeps doing his part. On a night so chilly that his pitching hand cramped, Wang became the American League’s first six-game winner and ended the Yankees’ three-game losing streak Friday with a 5-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
While New York has won all seven starts by Wang (6-0), the Yankees are 8-16 in other games. He pitched shutout ball into the sixth inning, and Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera completed a four-hitter. The Yankees improved to 27-7 when Wang starts following a loss, winning 11 in a row, and he is 22-6 in those games.
Wang can’t do it alone.
“I’m very disappointed with the way the season has gone, period,” Steinbrenner said at the team’s spring training complex in Tampa, Fla.
Wang improved to 7-0 against the Mariners in seven career starts, allowing three hits in six innings and striking out five. Early in the game, catcher Jose Molina went to the mound with a message.
“Attack the zone. Don’t be afraid to throw through the middle,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where he throws it, it’s going to move.”
In the past, Wang relied heavily on his sinker most nights. This year, he’s shown a more varied repertoire.
“We don’t even talk. That’s probably the good thing about it. I don’t know if he likes me, anyway,” joked Molina, who sported a Wang T-shirt. “Now you have to look for the slider, maybe change, maybe split, and still have the sinker there.”
Joe Girardi has been impressed by Wang’s cool demeanor—and occasionally worried.
“He’s so even-keeled all the time,” the New York Yankees manager said, “sometimes you want to make sure his pulse is still there.”
Hideki Matsui hit an RBI single in the first inning and Melky Cabrera added a two-run double in the second off Erik Bedard (2-1). Bedard entered with a 20-inning scoreless streak against the Yankees but was hurt by Seattle’s defense, which made four errors in the first three innings and allowed two unearned runs. New York padded its lead in the eighth, when Morgan Ensberg hit an RBI single off Sean Green and Molina had a sacrifice fly.
Wang has been a dose of good news for the Yankees, who learned that catcher Jorge Posada will be sidelined for at least five weeks because of shoulder inflammation. New York also is without Alex Rodriguez, on the disabled list with a strained right quadriceps.
“He comes after you with his fastball. He’s got a great sinker and he mixes it on both sides of the plate,” Jamie Burke said. “He comes with the slider, and it’s tough when it’s 94 and it’s right in the zone, and the next thing, it’s at the bottom of the zone.”
Bedard, in his second start since returning from a hip injury, allowed four hits in seven innings—none after the second—struck out six and walked one, retiring his final 14 batters.
He didn’t worry about the fielding follies, which included errors by third baseman Adrian Beltre, second baseman Jose Lopez, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and Burke, who came out from behind the plate and muffed a foul popup.
“If you do, you’re going to give up a lot more runs,” he said. “You just focus on the next guy.”
While the temperature was 49 degrees, damp air and a swirling wind made it feel much colder. Players wore hoodies and ski caps during batting practice.
“If this is spring, bring back winter,” read the signboard adjacent to Mike Mussina’s locker.
Still, Wang pitched in short sleeves.
Burke walked with one out in the fifth, just after a Yankees trainer came out to check on Wang’s cramp. Betancourt swung at the next pitch and grounded into a double play.
“Guys are trying too hard. They’re trying to do too much,” Mariners manager John McLaren said before the game.
McLaren didn’t speak with reporters afterward.
“It’s just one of those times right now where we’ve got to get through it and forget about what happened and go on to the next day,” Burke said.
When Yankees captain Derek Jeter walked Thursday night, it ended a streak of 61 plate appearances without a walk, his longest since 2004. He entered Friday averaging 3.1 pitches per plate appearance, the lowest in the majors among players with 80 or more plate appearances. … Seattle also had four errors April 5 in a 6-4 loss at Baltimore. … Molina was 0-for-3 and is hitless in his last 22 ABs. … Cabrera had been hitless in his previous seven at-bats against Bedard before the double. … Farnsworth was booed when he entered the game. … Suzuki stole three bases. … The Yankees reached 4 million tickets sold at home for the fourth straight year, topping the previous major league record set by Toronto (1991-93).
AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.