Friday, the Japanese language ruled the post-game interviews.
On Saturday, the Blue Jays language of the day became Mandarin.
Chien-Ming Wang pitched 6 1/3 solid innings as the Blue Jays defeated Baltimore, 4-2, for their 10th straight win to jump one game over .500 for the first time this season.
More poignantly, they advanced to within four games of the Orioles for second place in the AL East division, with an opportunity to sweep the three-game series on Sunday. Josh Johnson goes for the Jays and while the Orioles hadn’t announced a starting pitcher, Freddy Garcia is expected to get the nod.
Watch: Toronto 4, Baltimore 2
Following two starts on the road, Wang made his debut at Rogers Centre with a large group of flag-waving Taiwanese boosters seated among the 43,000-plus in attendance, near the left field foul pole. He departed with a 2-1 lead, after holding the Orioles to five hits and a walk in a tidy 92-pitch outing.
Wang spoke in a hushed voice first in Mandarin, then in hesitant English after the game. He’d been highly tense on Friday in preparation for the start, and according to a Taiwanese journalist, welcomed the dedicated fan support on Saturday.
“I am very happy to make them happy,” the journalist quoted him as saying.
The Orioles tied the game in the eighth with backup catcher Taylor Teagarden’s solo homer off Darren Oliver – arresting a string of 27-1/3 scoreless innings by the bullpen. Jose Bautista responded with a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the inning off reliever Darren O’Day. Bautista did some talking of his own, in English, while finishing his trot around the bases.
The night before, O’Day had shouted something to Bautista and stared him down after striking him out. “I don’t know where that came from but I didn’t appreciate it,” Bautista said. “I let him know that yesterday, and that was a little reminder today that I didn’t appreciate it.”
Switching topics, Bautista gave credit to the starting pitching for the team’s win streak.
The Jays signed Wang on June 11 as a free agent, after he’d opted out of his minor league contract with the New York Yankees. The Jays haven’t lost a game since he joined the team.
During his first start, in Chicago – a no-decision in a game won by the Jays in 10 innings after Bautista tied it in the ninth with a homer – he gave up four of his five runs in the fourth inning.
Pitching coach Pete Walker and catcher J.P. Arencibia counselled him during the contest to use his off-speed pitches more frequently as a counter to the trademark sinking fastball, and he lasted until the eighth inning.
The sinker induces hitters to hit grounders but Wang, 33, can no longer throw the pitch in the 95-mph range, as he did when winning 19 games for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007. A shoulder injury kept him out of the 2010 season and resulted in reduced velocity.
In his next start at Texas, he pitched seven scoreless innings and on Saturday, kept the Orioles off-balance for much of the afternoon by mixing curves, changeups and splitters with his sinker.
“Those pitches make the sinker that much better,” Walker said.
Wang said he was “very happy” his changeup worked, with the Rogers Centre roof closed.
The Jays backed him up with some standout defence, notably a diving stop of a Manny Machado grounder by first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, and a pair of running catches in left field by Melky Cabrera. Wang helped himself by spearing Travis Ishikawa’s line drive in the first inning and doubling off Ryan Flaherty at first base.
“We hit some balls hard but they did a really good job of fielding their positions,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Tip your hat to them.”