"Everybody out there understood how important this game was, especially after last night's loss," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "We need to minimize bad stuff."
Wondering if his team was somewhat lethargic after an 11-inning loss to Detroit on Friday, Torre called a brief team meeting before Saturday's game. He said that the gist of his speech was to urge players to put any lingering questions of the umpires' decision to play the game behind them; under orders from Major League Baseball, the crew waited out a four-hour, one-minute rain delay and allowed play to begin shortly after 11 p.m. ET. Torre's advice: Forget it.
"It's over with, let's move on," Torre said. "That's basically all it was."
Given that urging, the Yankees showed signs of renewal. Wang had won four of his last five decisions but, over that span, struggled at times with aggressiveness and trust in his sinker.
After a slow start in the first two innings, he was much improved on Saturday, calling his performance more "smooth." Wang limited Detroit to five hits in a two-walk, six-strikeout effort and credited an adjustment to take advantage of his natural pitch movement.
"Before, I tried to make pitches to the corner," said Wang, who threw more sinkers and showed better control. "Today, I threw it over the plate."
The bullpen-saving outing offered all New York relievers a day of rest except Brian Bruney, who pitched the ninth inning on Saturday but had not appeared in the extra-inning defeat.
"We went through a lot last night," said catcher Jorge Posada. "Wang really stepped up tonight. He was really good today -- really poised, really comfortable and attacking the strike zone. He was doing a lot of things well."
The Tigers scored a first-inning run off Wang when Placido Polanco singled, stole second and scored on a Magglio Ordonez single. Detroit drew to within one run when a sloppy battery display took hold in the fifth, as a passed ball and wild pitch brought Brandon Inge home.
But otherwise, Detroit was kept scoreless. Much of the credit may lie within Wang's work with pitching coach Ron Guidry, who has urged the right-hander to quicken his delivery slightly so as to generate more power as he drives toward the plate.
"I told him, 'Just be more aggressive,'" Guidry said. "He has the ability, when you watch him, to throw it nice and easy and the ball still explodes out of his hand. We've talked about it in the bullpen, being more aggressive at certain times in the game."
Those tweaks translating to an efficient performance, Torre said the Yankees were even tempted to send Wang out for the ninth inning, but they capped his night at 107 pitches after the Yankees had a lengthy top of the inning.
Backing Wang (15-6), the Yankees opened up the game in the sixth with a rarity of back-to-back triples off Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman, who lost his sixth consecutive decision.
Cabrera sliced a bases-loaded drive down the right-field line for a three-base hit; Bonderman's next pitch was ripped to center field, where Curtis Granderson attempted a diving catch, but the ball ticked off his glove and fell to the ground as Damon raced for third.
Bonderman (10-7) allowed seven runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking four and striking out none. He surrendered a two-run double up the left-center-field gap to Hideki Matsui in the first inning, one of three hits for Matsui, who has hit safely in 44 of 48 games and appears to be taking to the designated hitter spot -- sporadic as it may be -- with aplomb.
In a limited sample size of 75 at-bats as the Yankees' DH, Matsui has 26 hits, an average of .347.
"To DH on a periodic basis is, in a way to me, kind of refreshing," Matsui said through an interpreter. "You get into the game with that kind of feeling and it kind of reflects the numbers."
Damon hit a solo home run, his eighth, leading off the third. Torre said that with Damon's performances, he sees new spirit: the injury-nagged Damon who ached through most of the first half is gone now, replaced by a player whom Torre says will see regular duty down the stretch.
"To me, he's got a lot of life in his body," Torre said.
That was one reason the outfielder was in the lineup against the Tigers. Another was Damon's apparent mastery of Bonderman; with two hits in four trips on Saturday against the right-hander, Damon improved to 14-for-32 (.437) lifetime when facing him.
Damon still sees left field as an adjustment that is continuing -- he joked that the first ball hit to him on Saturday appeared as though it was "300 feet in the air," and that he was just hoping not to have it hit him in the head -- but with the Yankees needing contributions, Damon has little choice but to accept whatever he's offered.
"I've been there before," Damon said. "I feel like I'm going to try to finish up strong and stay healthy. This is going to be a tough team to beat down the stretch."