CHICAGO — Whatever it is about Chicago’s South Side that agrees with Bobby Abreu, the Yankees must wish they could see more than one trip to the Windy City on the schedule.
Abreu continued to rake within the confines of U.S. Cellular Field, slugging a seventh-inning grand slam off Octavio Dotel, while Johnny Damon added a late three-run homer and Jason Giambi also went deep as the Yankees blasted past the White Sox on Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field, 9-5.
In his 13th big league season, Abreu didn’t get his first look at the White Sox’s home ballpark until Interleague Play brought him through in 2004. Since moving to the American League, Abreu has continued to enjoy the backdrops here — he leads all Major Leaguers in batting average (.415) and has six homers and 15 RBIs in 14 games in this stadium.
“I like to hit over here,” Abreu said. “It’s a really nice ballpark to hit. From the first time that I came here, it feels good at the plate.”
Trailing by a single run, the Yankees rallied to chase Chicago starter Jose Contreras and regain the lead in the seventh, sending eight men to the plate in a frame that was highlighted by Abreu’s seventh career grand slam and his first as a Yankee. Contreras exited after walking Morgan Ensberg and allowing a one-out single to Melky Cabrera.
Left-hander Boone Logan came on and surrendered an infield single to Johnny Damon that loaded the bases. Dotel relieved and struck out Derek Jeter swinging for the second out, but Abreu connected on a deep drive to left-center field that landed in the seats for an estimated 382-foot blast, Abreu’s third home run of the season.
“I was looking for a pitch that I could hit hard,” Abreu said. “Fortunately, I put the ball in the air and got a home run. It wasn’t what I was looking for; I just wanted to hit the ball well.”
Playing without reigning American League MVP Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees showed no ill effects, slugging out 11 hits. New York has scored 16 runs in its last two games after managing just seven in its previous 27 innings.
“It’s what our guys have been doing all year,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I’ve said all along, eventually it’s going to pay off. Maybe the numbers aren’t where they’re supposed to be offensively for a few guys, but they’ve worked hard.”
The beneficiary of Abreu’s shot was right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who hung on to log his fourth victory in five starts this year. Wang pitched around trouble in the first inning, stranding two in scoring position, but was touched by Juan Uribe’s two-run double in the second, scoring Carlos Quentin and Joe Crede.
“He didn’t have his great stuff tonight, and he found a way to keep them in check and keep us in the ballgame and get a win,” Girardi said. “He was not as sharp — very seldom do you ever see Chien-Ming Wang at approximately 50 pitches after two innings. But he found a way, battled, gave us six innings and did a nice job.”
The White Sox moved ahead in the fifth. Orlando Cabrera stroked a one-out single to start the inning, and after Wang issued a walk to Jim Thome, Paul Konerko followed by slicing a run-scoring double down the left-field line, pushing Cabrera home.
Wang scattered three runs on 10 hits, walking two and striking out five over 105 pitches, before turning the ball over to the bullpen for the seventh. Wang said that his slider was spotty, so he was forced to go to his changeup and splitter more, offsetting his hard, heavy sinker.
“I figured out how to finish the game,” Wang said. “I changed a lot of speeds today.”
The victory, in Wang’s 85th career start, made him the fastest Major Leaguer to record 50 wins as a starter since Dwight Gooden, who won his 50th game in his 82nd start on June 29, 1986, at Chicago for the Mets. Wang became the quickest Yankee to 50 wins since friend and former pitching coach Ron Guidry did it in his 82nd start on Aug. 13, 1979, at Texas.
“That’s pretty good company,” Girardi said. “Obviously, [Wang has] been very good since he got here. When you look at his numbers, they don’t always jump out at you, because he doesn’t have the strikeouts. But he’s a winner.”
With Wang out, the White Sox pieced together a seventh-inning rally of their own. Billy Traber walked Thome to open the inning and yielded to Brian Bruney, who walked Konerko and allowed an infield single to A.J. Pierzynski around a strikeout.
With the bases loaded, Joba Chamberlain came on and got Quentin on a check-swing strikeout before Crede walked on a 3-2 fastball that ran inside. Uribe popped out to catcher Jorge Posada, ending the inning. Starter or reliever debate, anyone?
“It was good to come in and throw strikes,” Chamberlain said. “The bases were loaded and we kind of had a plan on [Quentin] all day. I threw a couple of good ones and located a good fastball, and it was easy to expand the zone ahead in the count.”
The Yankees put a first-inning run on the board against Contreras when Damon led off the game with a double, moved up on a hit and scored on a Hideki Matsui fielder’s choice.
New York added another in the second inning when Giambi clubbed his third home run of the year, a solo shot to left-center field, and Damon hit a three-run shot off Matt Thornton in the eighth.
“The guys did a good job of getting on base and we scored eight of our runs off home runs,” Damon said. “When you’re able to get a grand slam and a three-run homer, it makes things a lot easier.”