It's only two starts, but Chien-Ming Wang appears to be just what the doctor ordered for the Blue Jays' beleaguered pitching staff. He has taken the team deep into both games he's pitched and picked up the victory Sunday at Arlington, pitching seven shutout innings while walking two and striking out five.
The Blue Jays were able to get Wang, who starred for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007, winning 19 in each of the those seasons, simply because the Yankees felt he couldn't help their big club. They released him from his Triple 'A' deal at Scranton-Wilkes Barre of the International League, allowing him to sign on with the Blue Jays.
In a certain way, it reminds me of the success the Jays had with another Yankee discard, Doyle Alexander. In 1982, Doyle went 1-7 for the Yankees with a 6.08 earned run average. He got off to another rocky start in 1983 going 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA. Then out of frustration one night, he punched a wall and broke his hand. On May 31 of 1983, the Yankees released the 32-year-old Alexander and some wondered if his career could be over.
The Blue Jays signed him on June 21 of that season, and suddenly Doyle was reborn. He went 7-6 for the Jays the rest of the season and, more importantly, shaved his earned run average to 3.93. Things only got better the next two seasons under skipper Bobby Cox. Doyle won 17 games in 1984, and 17 again in 1985, the year the Blue Jays won their first division title. In fact, Doyle pitched the division clincher against the Yankees on a Saturday afternoon at Exhibition Stadium on the second last day of the regular season.
Doyle had a very strong and serious personality. Bobby Cox left after the 85 season and returned to Atlanta to become general manager of the Braves. Whether it was Cox leaving or some other reason, "Dour Doyle" as he came to be known, slipped a bit in 1986. He was 5-4 with 4.46 ERA when he was ultimately swapped to Cox's Braves in July for a young starting pitching prospect by the name of Duane Ward, who would eventually become part of the greatest 1-2 relief punch the Blue Jays ever had with Tom Henke.
Alexander had his moments after leaving Toronto, especially in 1987, when he helped Detroit beat out the Blue Jays for the East Division title on the final weekend of the season at Tiger Stadium. Still, overall, he never again reached the heights he enjoyed in Toronto. Over two full seasons with the Blue Jays and parts of two others, he went 46-26 with a 3.56 ERA. Though he won 194 games over his career, the best span of Doyle's career came in Toronto. Truth be told, over those Toronto years, I enjoyed watching him pitch more than any other Jays starter. The man knew how to pitch. He could change speeds and vary his location as well as anyone I've ever seen in a Blue Jays uniform. No, he could not blow people away like a Roger Clemens and he wasn't Dave Stieb or Roy Halladay, but when he was on, he could make hitters look foolish.
The circumstances are different with Chien-Ming Wang. The Yankees weren't fed up with him. They just didn't have a spot for him, what with Michael Pineda going on rehab and expected to finally pitch for the big club in the near future. But the Yankees could get stung on this one, just as they did in 1983 when they released Alexander. The Blue Jays should be so fortunate.
If you look at the American League standings from last year, four of the five teams that made the post-season are holding down playoff positions right now outright with the only exception being the Yankees and Texas, who are tied for the second Wild Card position. Both teams are struggling right now, especially at the plate.
The team that has stepped up is Boston. They've gone from also rans to first place in the AL East under John Farrell. If this continues the rest of the campaign, Farrell is going to be a shoo-in for American League Manager of the Year. Along those same lines, if the BoSox win the East, Dustin Pedroia would have an excellent shot at the Most Valuable Player Award, though I've got a feeling in the end it will boil down to a battle between the Orioles slugger Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers.
The Blue Jays are coming off a great 6-1 road trip, just when they needed it most, to climb to within five and a half games of the second Wild Card spot. But they've got to come close to sustaining this pace through the end of this month. They have 13 games left in June, including 10 against the East: three at home this weekend against Baltimore followed by three at Tampa Bay and four at Fewnway Park in Boston. Going 8-5 would keep them in the conversation at least about having meaningful games down the stretch.