The media interview room in the Buffalo Bisons’ clubhouse was packed Sunday with out-of-town reporters.
Since the Herd became the affiliate of the nearby Toronto Blue Jays, this alone is not an unusual occurrence.
This time, however, the visitors from the international press came from farther than 90 minutes up the QEW.
Around five media outlets from Taiwan were at Coca-Cola Field this week as national hero Chien-Ming Wang joined the Bisons’ starting rotation.
The Bisons even posted on their website a picture of the front page of the China Daily featuring Wang preparing for his first start with the Herd.
And his start was pretty darn good. Wang won the second game of the Bisons’ doubleheader sweep of the Syracuse Chiefs, 4-1, in front of 6,879.
The Bisons won the opener as Dave Bush pitched all seven innings in a 6-2 victory. He gave up only five hits and walked just one while striking out eight.
Wang retired the first nine batters he faced and gave up just one run in completing the seven-inning three-hitter. He issued no walks and struck out one.
“Today I had better control for me,” Wang said. “I still have to learn to throw a breaking ball for a strike.”
“He had a good sinker,” manager Marty Brown said. “He’s got to do some work with his curveball … He’s obviously a veteran. He knows what he’s doing. Today the sink in his ball as time went on in the game got even better.”
His sinker produced 12 groundball outs that the defense fielded easily behind him. And while he knows that his curveball needs to improve, Wang has a veteran pedigree full of experience. The key for him now is to work on his curveball and find his way back to a regular spot in the Major Leagues, where he was once an ace for the New York Yankees.
“He’s a super nice guy,” said catcher Sean Ochinko. “He’s been in the big leagues for a long time and this was my first time catching him. I told him, ‘Hey look, pitch your game. I know you’re a sinker-baller and have a breaking ball change-up. I’m going to put down what I think but whatever you want to throw, you throw. It’s your game.’ He looked good. His fastball command was good.”
Signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2000, he won 19 games in both 2006 and 2007. In 2006, he finished second in the American League Cy Young voting to Minnesota’s Johan Santana.
In 2008, he won his 50th game in his 85th start, becoming the fastest major league pitcher to 50 wins since Dwight Gooden won his 50th in 82 starts for the Mets in 1986. That was on April 22.
Nearly two months later, his career changed forever. On June 15, 2008, in an Interleague game at Houston, he suffered a torn foot ligament and partial tear of an ankle ligament while running the bases.
Wang did not pitch the rest of the season and the injury caused a significant change in his mechanics. He had surgery on July 20, 2009, to repair a shoulder injury and did not pitch again until 2011.
After three years in the Washington Nationals organization, he signed with the Yankees again this season.
The 33-year-old opted out of a contract with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 7 to join the Toronto Blue Jays. As the Jays went on an 11-game winning streak, Wang started three games and posted a 2.18 ERA.
But then, Wang had two horrendous outings, giving up seven earned runs in 1∏ innings against Boston on June 27 and six earned runs in 1∏ innings against Detroit on July 2.
Wang was then designated for assignment and accepted a demotion to Buffalo, officially joining the roster Friday.
In his debut Sunday, the Herd spotted Wang a 4-0 lead in the second, thanks to a three-run home run from his catcher and an RBI single from Ryan Goins. But Wang’s mental approach isn’t affected by how many runs his offense puts up. He said when a pitcher goes on the mound, he has to think like it’s a tie game. His focus is on the hitter and not on the size of his lead or deficit.
Ochinko noticed that level of concentration.
“I don’t think Wang was nervous at all. I think he’s pitched in bigger games before,” Ochinko said. “But I think obviously he wants to pitch good because he wants to go back to the big leagues. So it’s an important start for him. So I think obviously getting some runs and getting comfortable is important. He was in control out there and he did a good job.”