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Wang nearly perfect in Yanks' rout

Wang nearly perfect in Yanks' rout

NEW YORK -- Chien-Ming Wang took a seat at the far end of the Yankees' bench for the sixth inning, a white towel draped over his right arm and a bronze plaque of longtime clubhouse man Pete Sheehy serving as his only company.

The march toward perfection, as Wang learned in the Yankees' 8-1 victory on Saturday, can become a lonely path.

"I don't know why everybody [wouldn't] talk to me," Wang said.

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Wang's bid to become just the third Yankees pitcher to throw a perfect game in the regular season ended in the eighth inning, as the Mariners' Ben Broussard -- the 23rd Seattle hitter of the game -- slugged a hanging changeup for a solo home run.

"I tried to throw it low. I got it higher," Wang said.

Barely breaking stride, Wang took a brief walk around the mound, gritted his teeth and put the finishing touches on the eighth inning of work.

Wang later said that he wasn't upset to have lost the perfect game. If the icy-nerved hurler had been, the Yankees probably would have been curious to see what it looked like.

"He's about as even-tempered a starting pitcher as you can be," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "I was curious just to see what kind of emotion [he'd have] if he did pitch the no-hitter. He may have jogged off the mound."

Claiming to have been blissfully unaware that he'd been pitching a perfect game until it was later drawn to his attention, Wang seemed satisfied with his one-run, two-hit performance, in which he stifled Seattle hitters and allowed no walks, striking out four.

The Yankees, who have looked longingly to their pitching staff for solid starting efforts all year, were similarly pleased.

"This whole team knows how important he is to this club," said pitching coach Ron Guidry, who embraced Wang in the dugout with a series of slaps to the back of the hurler's neck.

Catcher Jorge Posada, who received David Wells' perfect game against the Twins on May 17, 1998, said that he'd started to allow thoughts of immortality to creep into his head after Wang battled back from a three-ball count to strike out Seattle left fielder Raul Ibanez, ending the seventh inning.

"I thought he had it," Posada said. "I really thought so.

"When he's done after seven, striking out Ibanez, you feel pretty good about it. You think about the next three outs and you're thinking in the dugout [of] who's coming up, what you're going to call."

In the pivotal at-bat, Posada explained that Broussard, who'd flied out to center field and grounded out to first in his previous at-bats, took a first-pitch fastball and appeared to have timed the pitch pretty well.

Posada called for a changeup, the first Wang threw all afternoon, hoping to get Broussard out in front. Instead, the pitch hung and Broussard smashed it to right-center field, to the right of the 385-foot sign.

"It's not like he was completely dominating, but he did a good job keeping us off balance," Broussard said. "In the sixth inning, you start realizing he has a shot at this. We had to make him start throwing more pitches. We had to be patient."

A 19-game winner last season, tying Minnesota's Johan Santana for the Major League lead, Wang hadn't even been a certainty for the start, due to a cracked fingernail on his right middle finger.

Wang, who missed three weeks of the season due to a strained right hamstring suffered in Spring Training, quelled any fears over a second setback by throwing a solid bullpen session on Wednesday in Texas.

"For a guy who we weren't sure he was going to make his next start, he did a great job," Torre said.

Torre said that Wang, a ground-ball pitcher who relies on his bowling ball-like sinker to induce easy plays for his infielders, might have been an unlikely candidate for perfection because of the constant defensive action.

"When they're swinging at it, they certainly envision the ball going in the air," Torre said. "It just doesn't happen because of the late movement. That's the trick. The ball doesn't move until right at the end, when you've already committed yourself."

Fourteen of the outs Wang recorded came on the ground. The pitcher also did his share of glove work, fielding his position well in the effort.

The right-hander successfully defended against four batted balls, including a fourth-inning play in which he took an Ichiro Suzuki grounder off his left ankle, throwing out the Seattle speedster at first base after the ball deflected up off his chest.

The Yankees also helped Wang with solid defense, notably a running seventh-inning catch by Hideki Matsui, tracking down a drive into the left-center-field gap, to keep the bid alive.

One day after putting up season highs in runs and hits, only to lose, the Yankees' bats did more than enough heavy lifting to support Wang's sterling effort on Saturday, including batting around against former Yankees righty Jeff Weaver in the five-run sixth inning.

Staked to a 1-0 lead by Bobby Abreu's sacrifice fly in the third, Matsui brought home the Yankees' second run in the sixth inning in painful fashion, as he was hit in the right thigh with the bases loaded by the suddenly erratic Weaver. Posada followed with an RBI single to center, and Weaver walked in a run by issuing a free pass to Melky Cabrera.

The Yankees broke the game open on Derek Jeter's two-run double to left, extending the Yankees' lead to six runs as Weaver exited, having allowed six runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking three and fanning three.

Robinson Cano added a seventh-inning sacrifice fly and Josh Phelps had an eighth-inning RBI groundout.

Coincidentally, Wang's performance came on the 103rd anniversary of the first perfect game in Major League history. On May 5, 1904, Cy Young pitched a perfect game for the Boston Americans against the Philadelphia Athletics.

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

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