Subdued Wang given critical test
Righty set to open second consecutive ALDS for Yankees
CLEVELAND -- Chien-Ming Wang exudes confidence through his calm demeanor. That's one reason the Yankees have turned to him to take the mound in what is sure to be a raucous atmosphere at Jacobs Field on Thursday night.
For the second year in a row, Wang will start for New York in the opener of the American League Division Series -- this time against a potent Indians offense. For the Yankees, Wang is the type of pitcher who appears to be immune to the kind of jitters that can arise in such a critical situation.
"He doesn't seem to get fazed by too much," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "You can never tell by his expression."
On Wednesday, Wang wore a slight smile as he sat bright-eyed before a large crowd of media during a press conference at the ballpark. After an assortment of short responses to a variety of questions, one reporter asked if, similar to last October in Detroit, Wang was more nervous for the meeting with the press than he was for his actual start.
"Same," said Wang, who smiled as the room erupted in laughter. "I think I'm calm a lot, and I don't get nervous to pitch in the postseason."
If the height of Wang's anxiety exists in the interview room, that's a great sign for the Yankees, who went a perfect 6-0 against the Indians in the regular season this year. A year ago, Wang picked up a victory in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Tigers, who then dealt three straight losses to the Yankees en route to the AL pennant.
Now, the Yankees are paired up against the Indians, who are making their first postseason appearance since 2001. Wang will square off against Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, who is one of the leading candidates for this year's AL Cy Young Award. New York hasn't faced Sabathia since 2004, while Wang hasn't pitched against the Tribe since last year.
"We're going to have to go out there and, like we've done so often in the past, go out there and try to match him," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, referring to Sabathia. "That's what Wang's job is -- to try to keep things close and, hopefully, win the ballgame."
Wang will aim for another Game 1 win behind a style that is as subdued as his personality.
The 27-year-old native of Taiwan won't overpower Cleveland, but Wang will rely heavily on his sharp sinker and attempt to induce early contact. This season, Wang tied for the Major League lead by forcing hitters to ground into 32 double plays, and he created 381 groundouts, which was the third-highest total in the AL.
Wang's approach isn't flashy, but it has helped him notch 19 victories in each of the past two seasons. Cleveland will make an interesting opponent, though. Granted, they haven't faced Wang since last July, but the Indians grounded into the fewest double plays (114) in the league this season and ranked 12th in the AL in ground-ball outs.
Then again, the fact that Cleveland hasn't stepped into the batter's box against Wang in so long might work in the pitcher's favor.
"Or, it could hurt him -- we'll see," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "He's been through this before and knows what it's all about. I just think with the stuff that he's got, he's so good that I've got great confidence in him."
His stuff aside, the Yankees believe the composure that Wang -- 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA in three career starts against the Indians -- has shown over the past few years is enough to trust him with such a daunting assignment.
"His personality is great -- period," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "He's as professional as they come. He's not excitable and, obviously, in our market, usually that's very helpful, because there's a lot that goes on around you.
"He's even-keeled always and very consistent in his performance. So, we've grown to have a great deal of confidence every time he takes the mound -- for good reason."
Wang said that his parents, along with some friends, were making the trip from Taiwan to Cleveland for Thursday's opener. That would seem to add another element that could spawn some game-time nerves for the right-hander, but Wang said he doesn't think the game will feel any different than a regular-season contest.
"He's been able to put everything aside and really focus on what his job is," Posada said, "and really be focused on what pitches he needs to throw. He's worked really hard and prepared really hard to face a team like the Indians."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.