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Yankees thankful for Wood, bullpen

While CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera dominate the headlines as the Yankees rotation ace and shutdown closer, the team would likely not have the majors’ best record if it weren’t for the recent brilliant performance by their new “glue guy” in the bullpen.

On the 99th anniversary of the 511th and final win by Cy Young – who literally defines pitching excellence – let’s take a look at a player who certainly isn’t on the short list of candidates for the award that carries his name, yet who has been arguably the unsung hero and most valuable member of the Yankees relief corps over the past two months.

When the Yankees acquired Kerry Wood and his uninspiring 6.30 ERA at the trade deadline, it was hard to see how he could possibly help a Yankees bullpen that had struggled for much of the first half of the season to find any consistency beyond Mariano Rivera.

Since pitching in pinstripes for the first time on August 1, not only has Wood been the most effective pitcher out of the bullpen for the Yankees, he has been one of the top relief pitchers in all of baseball. Among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched since the start of August, he has the lowest ERA in the majors and, as you can see in the accompanying chart, dominates the American League leaderboard in several other stats.

Consider a few other nuggets since he joined the Bronx Bombers:

Kerry Wood, AL Ranks Since 8/1

• He has allowed just one run in 21 appearances – a solo homer to Aaron Hill on August 3 – and is currently riding a career-best streak of 19 consecutive scoreless appearances.

• Of the 69 outs he has recorded, 26 of them (38 percent) have been by strikeout, including 11 in four pitches or less.

• Of the 54 pitches put in play by opposing batters, just 10 have been recorded as “well hit” by the video scouts at Inside Edge, despite the fact that 34 have reached the outfield as line drives or flyballs.

Though Wood has been prone to allowing baserunners (13 walks and 13 hits in 23 innings), he had been nearly untouchable when those runners are in scoring position. Of the 28 batters he’s faced with a runner on second and/or third base, he has struck out 11 of them (39 percent), while giving up only two measly singles, neither of which scored a run.

WoodAs good as he’s been with runners in scoring position, he has been perhaps even more overpowering when getting into a two-strike count. Of the 57 batters he’s faced, he has retired 26 of them with a third strike and has allowed just five hits. He is perfect in September, having sat down all 20 batters reaching two strikes, including 11 via punchouts.

Wood was used mostly in low-leverage spots during his first month, as Joe Girardi called upon him almost exclusively to navigate the seventh inning. But since September 1, he’s established himself as the de facto “Bridge To Mariano” with six of his 10 appearances in the eighth inning or later and in high-leverage situations.

Wood has responded to this increased pressure and responsibility by pitching even better this month. In fact, you could argue that he’s been the Yankees most valuable pitcher in September, leading the staff with a Win Probability Added of 0.95 in 10 appearances.

Kerry Wood As a Yankee

As the Rays and Yankees jockey for position to finish as the best team in the majors, the continued dominance of Kerry Wood in the late innings could be the key factor in whether the Yankees are able to hold off Tampa for the division title and homefield advantage during the playoffs.

Tune into ESPN at 7 ET tonight to see the Rays and Yankees battle for the AL East lead in the opening game of a Wednesday Night Baseball doubleheader.