By RONALD BLUM , 08.30.2006, 11:56 PM
With Detroit one out from getting swept in a doubleheader by the New York Yankees, Craig Monroe gave the Tigers another of the comeback wins that have defined their season.
Monroe's three-run homer off Scott Proctor with two outs in the ninth lifted the Tigers to a 5-3 victory Wednesday night, preventing Detroit's dwindling lead in the AL Central from getting sliced to 3 1/2 games.
"Let's be honest, that was a big win," Monroe said.
Chien-Ming Wang tied Toronto's Roy Halladay for the major league lead with his 16th win in the day game, combining on a four-hitter in a 2-0 victory. And New York had rallied from a two-run deficit in the nightcap.
But with Mariano Rivera unavailable after finishing the day game and Yankees manager Joe Torre unwilling to test Kyle Farnsworth's achy back, New York brought in Scott Proctor for the ninth.
Seeking his first major league save, Proctor (5-4) walked Brandon Inge with one out. After fouling off a pair of 3-2 pitches with two outs, Curtis Granderson took ball four. Monroe turned on the next pitch, a weak slider, and drove it to left-center for his 23rd homer. It was his 10th homer from the seventh inning on with the lead or deficit two runs or less.
"We've been doing it all year," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We have a good team. We're not a fluke."
Detroit won for the seventh time this year when trailing after eight innings, and the home run made Marilyn Monroe very happy. Craig's mother, who lives in Texarkana, Texas, was visiting New York for the first time, and he was disappointed he had gone 0-for-4 in the opener.
"Just to see the excitement on her face," he said.
As the ball sailed high over him, Derek Jeter didn't even turn around at shortstop. He just dropped his head between his legs and swiped the infield dirt with his hands.
"I need to attack guys better, do what I've been doing all year. It's just embarrassing," said Proctor, who had thrown one pitch in the opener. "You just can't walk guys."
Farnsworth felt a twinge in his back between games, a problem he's had a few times this year, and had a wrap around his waist after the nightcap.
"I thought I could have gone out there today, but Joe thought otherwise," he said.
Torre spoke to Farnsworth just before the second game began.
"I said, `How you doing?' He says, `OK.' That wasn't good enough for me," Torre said.
Torre refused to use Rivera, who threw 14 pitches in the opener.
"I have to look at the big picture," Torre said. "This game isn't an October game. That's when you throw the rules out the window. We've got to take as good a care of him as we can."
Jason Grilli (2-2) retired one batter for the win, and Todd Jones finished for his 35th save in 38 chances.
Still, New York boosted its AL East lead to eight games over second-place Boston, its largest division margin since August 2004.
Detroit, which has lost eight of 12, has a 4 1/2-game lead over second-place Chicago, down from a 10-game division advantage on Aug. 8.
Yankees starter Jaret Wright struck out five and walked one in a season-high 6 1-3 innings, allowing Carlos Guillen's second-inning homer and Sean Casey's fourth-inning RBI single.
Wilfredo Ledezma made his second start of the season and extended his scoreless streak to 22 innings before the sixth. He left with two on, and Jeter pulled a two-run double down the left-field line against Fernando Rodney, then scored on a roller to third by Alex Rodriguez.
A-Rod was booed several times as he went 0-for-7 in the doubleheader, leaving him with one hit in 24 at-bats. After Granderson caught up with his drive to deep right-center in the fifth inning of the opener, A-Rod bounced his helmet off the infield dirt just past first base.
With Yankee Stadium less than half full for the afternoon makeup of Tuesday night's rainout, Wang (16-5) allowed three hits in 7 2-3 innings. Pitching on six days' rest, he got 13 groundball outs, including five on comebackers.
"It's like trying to hit a bowling ball," Yankees pitching coach Ron Guidry said. "The sinker that he throws is so heavy and it moves so late, the guys just beat it in the ground."
Wang has overtaken Randy Johnson (15-10) and Mike Mussina (13-5) to become the Yankees' ace.
"He's the one that's pitching the best right now," Guidry said.
Wang, who received a standing ovation from fans when he came out, won for the eighth time in nine decisions. He likely has six starts left in the regular season and could get consideration for the AL Cy Young Award.
"I don't think of that," the soft-spoken native of Taiwan said.
Wang left after Granderson's double gave the Tigers runners on second and third with two outs in the eighth. Proctor relieved, and Ordonez pinch hit and flied out to left on a first-pitch slider. Rivera finished for his 32nd save in 35 chances.
Craig Wilson homered off Nate Robertson (11-11), who dropped to 1-5 in August, and Jason Giambi added a sacrifice fly.
"Craig Wilson is a nine-hole hitter? He was a four-hole hitter somewhere else," Robertson said.