The New York Yankees felt Wang Chien-ming (王建民) no longer had the tools to be a consistently effective pitcher at the major league level, releasing him from his minor league contract last week so he could sign with the Toronto Blue Jays and after Wang’s one-game tryout with the Blue Jays against the White Sox in Chicago on Tuesday — the Taiwanese right-hander’s first start at the big league level since September last year — the jury is still out on whether the Yankees were right.
For at least one night, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was a believer.
“I thought he did a great job. He really did,” Gibbons said.
Wang had trouble keeping his trademark sinker down and struggled with location, yielding two home runs on pitches that floated back over the middle of the plate, and his pitching line was unimpressive — five runs on 10 hits and three walks in 7-1/3 innings.
However, Wang also showed resilience in a game the Blue Jays eventually won, bouncing back from a horrid fourth inning when Chicago scored four runs — the big blow a two-out three-run home run by Conor Gillaspie — to keep the White Sox scoreless in the fifth after they loaded the bases with nobody out.
“It was just that one inning where I gave up a lot of runs. Then I calmed down and just focused on getting one batter out, then another and then another,” Wang said. “After the fifth inning, I just focused on keeping the ball down.”
He also pitched into the eighth inning, giving the overused Blue Jays bullpen (which leads the majors with 244-1/3 innings pitched) a much-needed break and preventing the White Sox from extending the 5-4 lead they held after 4-1/2 innings.
The Blue Jays took advantage, tying the game on a two-out solo shot by Jose Bautista in the top of the ninth and then winning the game with two runs in the top of 10th to beat Chicago 7-5.
“I think he did a tremendous job. He saved the bullpen,” Gibbons said.
Toronto did not guarantee Wang a spot in the rotation beyond Tuesday’s start when they signed him, so the 33-year-old, whose career has been derailed by injuries since mid-2008, was pitching for his future. He threw 93 pitches, 59 for strikes, and his velocity remained consistently high, erasing one of the Yankees’ main concerns.
Wang relied mostly on his sinker in the first four innings, but seemed to get better when he started mixing in off-speed pitches in the fifth inning and beyond to keep the White Sox hitters off balance.
“He started pitching really well when he started using his breaking ball,” Gibbons said. “When he started doing that, with his curve ball and changeup, he’s a different guy. He looks like a pitcher. That’s how you get guys out.”
Gibbons, who has had trouble holding together the club’s starting rotation because of an plague of injuries, indicated that Wang had earned another start with the club, which will likely come against the Texas Rangers in Texas on Sunday.
Hearing that he would get another shot, Wang said: “I’m very happy to have this opportunity, and do what I can to take advantage of it and be prepared for every game.”
If nothing else, Wang remains beloved in his home country, a status that was cemented earlier this year when he pitched 12 scoreless innings in two games for Taiwan at the World Baseball Classic in March.
Special big-screen viewing areas were set up around the nation for Wang’s first game with the Blue Jays, which started at 8am local time yesterday.
Taiwan Sport Lottery Corp, which runs a legal betting on sports events, said the game drew NT$10.45 million (US$350,000) in wagers, the most for any single Major League Baseball game this year, with 83 percent of those laying down bets putting their money on the Blue Jays to win.