Win Probability table courtesy of Fan Graphs.
St. Petersburg-Tampa Bay's quest to stave off being the victim of New York's playoff-clinching game reached an abrupt end on Wednesday night, as the Yankees scored 12 runs in a span of three innings as they beat down the Devil Rays in a blowout 12-4 win. Rays starter J.P. Howell took the fall as New York pounded out 18 total hits off of Rays pitching, including three each by Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada. Doug Mientkiewicz added in four hits from the No. 8 hole.
Howell was coasting along in what was shaping up to be a second straight impressive start before he got bombed in the fifth inning. The Rays had jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first and Howell held that advantage through three innings. He gave up ground in the fourth inning when Jeter hit a solo home run and Bobby Abreu scored later on a series of sacrifice plays, but going into the fifth he still had a good outing going. However the fifth turned into the inning of hell as Howell failed to retire more than two batters as seven Yankee runs crossed the plate, including three on a Robinson Cano home run. Eleven Yankee batters would step into the batter's box before the inning was over; Howell was lifted before the 10th batter stepped in. The Rays' lefty was charged with nine runs in 4.2 innings of work, eight of which were earned, and the evening put a series damper on his quest to impress his way into the 2008 rotation.
The Rays bullpen would favor no better on the evening, as Jeff Ridgway and Juan Salas would combine to spot New York an additional three runs just for good measure. While the Yankees reaching base 10 times in 4.2 innings against Howell was bad, their reaching base a total of 14 times against the combined bullpen efforts of Scott Dohmann, Ridgway, Salas, Jay Witasick, and Brian Stokes is just downright pathetic. It is a wonder that the Yankees didn't score more.
Meanwhile for the Rays' lineup their problem wasn't getting on base, it was merely crossing home plate. The team pounded out 12 hits and drew three walks on the evening, but only had four runs to show for it. While every starter reached base at least once for Tampa Bay, only two had multiple hits on the day; Greg Norton with three and B.J. Upton with two. Carlos Peña hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the Rays their second run of the ballgame, but the circumstances being what they were, more important was the fact that it gave Peña a new team record 118 RBI. The blast also extended Peña's single season Rays home run record to 43. Jonny Gomes also homered later in the ballgame, a two run shot that capped the scoring on the night. Chien-Ming Wang picked up his 19th win of the year for New York and surrendered just two runs over six innings. The game's attendance total of 21,621 virtually assures that the team will break its attendance mark from last year in the season's final home game tomorrow. The team needs a crowd of 10,310 or more to do so.
7:10; RAYS TV
RAYS RADIO/WHNZ 1250 AM
|NYY||RH Chien-Ming Wang||193.1||3.72||4.56||2.61||1.75||8.94||.686||0.37||1.28||.292||2.53||14.31|
|RAYS||LH J.P. Howell||46.1||6.80||8.74||3.50||2.50||12.24||.864||1.17||1.75||.400||1.43||18.43|
RH Chien-Ming Wang, New York:
Overview: New York tries to clinch a playoff spot on their own accord tonight at Tropicana Field, and they will send out groundball specialist Chien-Ming Wang to do so. Though Wang has continued his track record of solid and unspectacular pitching this season, that has been in short supply for the Yankees, which means he has been extremely valuable to them in their efforts to clinch a 13th consecutive playoff berth. He has led New York's charge toward trying to re-capture the AL East title having been on a tear since mid-August, mainly by relying on his fielders as he always had. He will never strike out many batters and will give up a few walks here and there, but he is extremely effective at pitching to contact. Working to Tampa Bay's advantage is the fact that Wang's ERA is at 5.05 on the road this season, 5.11 in two starts at Tropicana Field this season. He also has trouble going past the sixth inning during his starts, after which opposing players have generated a line of .354/.398/.566 against him in 108 at bats.
Recent Starts: Wang has been on fire for the last five weeks, pitching to a 2.63 ERA in 48 innings of work as New York has rallied to save their season and knock on the door of clinching a playoff spot. Wang has been a key performer at the forefront of that, holding opposing hitters to a .230/.309/.282 line in those seven starts, six of which have come against teams with a record of .500 or better. Though he has struggled at times with control during that streak, the results have been all positive. Last time out against Toronto, Wang surrendered two runs (one of which was not earned) in seven innings of work in an eventual no-decision. He has not faced Tampa Bay during his seven start hot streak.
vs RAYS: Wang has been decidedly average in his career against the Devil Rays, with his career ERA against Tampa Bay of 3.90 closely mirroring his career ERA of 3.75. He has a 4.28 ERA against the Rays in his career at Tropicana Field, an ERA which climbs to 5.11 in his two starts there this year. Those two starts represent the entirety of his experience against the Rays in the 2007 season; a good thing since his ERA is 3.3 points higher on the road than it is at Yankee Stadium. He last faced the Rays on July 14th, when he earned a quality start in giving up three runs over six innings while striking out six and walking one. That followed up his first start of the season, against any team, which happened to come against the Rays on April 24th. He fared slightly worse in that effort, surrendering four runs over 6.1 innings. The picture looks bleak for the Rays heading into this game, however, as all but one active Ray for this game has done terribly against Wang all-time. The lone exception is Delmon Young, who is 4 for 9 with two doubles of off the pride of Taiwan.
LH J.P. Howell, RAYS:
Overview: J.P. Howell makes the last of his two start spot duty in the season's final two weeks, trying to progress on his success last week against Anaheim and leave a favorable impression on the Rays' minds as they go into the offseason to shape next year's rotation. Howell has made nine starts for the Rays in total this season, posting a 6.80 ERA with the major league club. He has been plagued by an inability to ratchet up the velocity on his fastball, and because of that many people have doubts on the probability of him being successful in the major leagues. The former 1st round pick didn't show the velocity jump many were hoping for in his start last week against the Angels, but he did appear to have better movement on his fastball that hopefully will be able to offset some of his velocity problems. But make no mistake; Howell will get hit hard if his velocity continues to struggle in the low 80s. Interestingly enough, most of Howell's struggles seem to be concentrated in the first two innings and 25 pitches of play. He gets roughed up in this part of the game, but if he survives to make it past this part he does much better throughout the middle of the game. It is an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on; maybe Howell isn't ready for the game or hasn't been warmed up properly?
Recent Starts: Howell has made just one start since being recalled earlier this month from AAA Durham's playoff roster, and he made that start last Thursday against the Angels. Working in place of shut down starter Jamie Shields, Howell ceded just two runs to Anaheim over six innings of play, walking one and striking out eight to go along with five hits in an eventual Angel win. Previous to this, Howell had spent close to two months with Durham as the Bulls made a run to the International League championship. He had a 2.80 ERA after the AAA All-Star break in 10 starts for the Bulls.
vs NYY: Howell faced New York once earlier this season, and the results were not pretty. Starting in the second game of a disastrous double-header on July 21st, Howell was making a spot start up from AAA Durham when the flood gates came open early. He eventually lasted five innings, surrendering seven runs (all of them in the first three innings, and giving up 10 hits. That was pretty much the death knell on his chances of starting for a sustained length of time this season, and he was sent back down after the game. Overall he has made three career starts against New York to a 5.00 total ERA, but his one start against the Yankees in late 2006 was among his best major league starts to date. Facing the Yankees in Game 2 of the Rays' final home series, Howell shut out New York over seven innings of work, giving up just three hits and one walk in the effort. Though New York's season was winding down and they weren't going at the Rays with their best, the start still represented a high water mark in Howell's career and gave hope that he could be an effective piece of the rotation for the 2007 season. Obviously that was not to be, but let's hope for the immediate that he repeats his last performance against the Yankees at home. To do so, however, he will have to contend with a New York lineup that has hit him pretty hard. Hideki Matsui and Álex Rodríguez have two doubles each in nine and seven at bats, respectively, against Howell while Melky Cabrera has a double among two hits in five at bats. The three lead a New York attack that features no player whom Howell has faced in more than nine plate appearances.