Yanks' rock, Wang likely for Game 1

Yanks' rock, Wang likely for Game 1

It was lost in the Yankees' first-round exit at the hands of the Tigers last season, but Chien-Ming Wang was the man on the mound when the playoffs began, getting a series started in promising fashion.

The Yankees obviously want to find different results in 2007 as they play their 13th consecutive postseason, but as far as their ace sinkerballer is concerned, he has been doing just fine. The 27-year-old Wang is the favorite to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Jacobs Field in Cleveland.

For most of the Yankees' remarkable campaign, Wang and left-hander Andy Pettitte have been the veteran horses, often running neck and neck as far as their value to the club.

The race was so tight that hours after workers successfully washed out any remaining traces of champagne from the visitors' clubhouse at Tropicana Field, the call was still too close to make for manager Joe Torre. All he could commit to was that, in some order, Wang and Pettitte would be starting the first two games against the Indians.

"It's either going to be Wang and Pettitte or Pettitte and Wang," Torre said. "We're still talking about it. Neither of them really have an opinion on what they want. They don't care. I talked to Andy, and he said, 'You make the decision.'"

It may be a simple call to make just based upon timing and days of rest. Wang made his last appearance of the season on Wednesday at Tropicana Field, logging his 19th victory with six innings of two-run ball against the Devil Rays and helping secure a playoff-clinching celebration.

Pettitte was used in one more turn around the rotation, pitching a few innings on Saturday against the Orioles in Baltimore. That would make Oct. 4 Pettitte's normal day to pitch, but Wang will already have been on longer rest, throwing in between.

Besides, all bets are off, considering the Yankees could wind up playing in an ALDS scenario in which Torre would be able to use Wang and Pettitte twice around a Game 3 starter, something he called "logical" if presented with the opportunity. Pettitte said he is game for whatever is decided.

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"This postseason is really the reason why I came back, for sure," Pettitte said. "In talking with Joe and [general manager Brian Cashman], basically, their desire for me to come back was to help them hopefully be successful in the postseason. The goal, for me, was to come back here and get this team to where we were before I left."

Wang suffered losses in his first two starts of the season, falling to the Devil Rays and Red Sox, but he recovered to finish 19-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 30 starts, tying a career high in wins he set in 2006.

"After the injury," catcher Jorge Posada said, "he came back and he wasn't himself. It took really, like, three or four starts to really get going. And ever since then, he's been able to take the ball any time he wanted to. ... I've seen him every day. I've seen what he's been able to do. I think he's, for us, been No. 1."

Wang finished the season allowing 199 hits in 199 1/3 innings, more interested in garnering ground-ball outs than recording strikeouts, though he logged a career-high 104 in that department. Wang's bowling-ball-like sinker handcuffed opposing batters to a .265 mark.

"It's awesome," said catcher Jose Molina. "It's a hard, heavy sinker, and it's hard to pick it up. It's not like 89 [mph]; it's 93 and 94. It's a little bit tough, especially when he's throwing strikes."

Wang walked 59 batters this season, and the Yankees won 21 of the games in which he pitched. Though he is 2-1 in three career starts against the Tribe, Wang has not faced the Indians since July 3, 2006, when he took a loss.

Pettitte, by comparison, drew Cleveland for an Aug. 12 start at Jacobs Field, tossing 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball for his ninth victory.

"It's so unusual," Torre said. "That's what this unbalanced schedule does for you or to you -- we haven't faced [C.C.] Sabathia in four years. It's crazy."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.