A lot happened in last night’s game between the Yankees and Rangers in Arlington, but the most significant came in the fifth inning. Joba Chamberlain entered the fifth with a 4-2 lead having thrown 67 pitches, struck out four, and walked just one. The two runs he allowed came in the previous inning, when David Murphy homered on a hanging slider following a walk to Marlon Byrd. The home run was one of six in the game, all of which went to right field or right-center on a hot Texas night on which the wind was blowing in over left field and out over right. Murphy’s home run was also the first Chamberlain had allowed in four starts, and just the second he’d allowed in ten turns.
Rangers third baseman Ramon Vazquez singled on Chamberlain’s first pitch of the fifth inning. Ian Kinsler then worked the count full. Chamberlain’s 3-2 pitch was a slider low and away. Kinsler checked his swing and drilled the pitch straight down into the dirt in front of home plate. The ball bounced once, then rolled forward just enough to enter fair territory. Ivan Rodriguez pounced on the ball and fired it to second base, where Robinson Cano turned an apparent double play.
Kinsler didn’t run the ball out, but he had a good reason. On it’s once bounce, the ball had hit him in the left thigh while he still had part of his left foot in the batters box. Thus, instead of a double play, the ball was ruled foul. Chamberlain’s next pitch was a fastball in the dirt that walked Kinsler and, after Gerald Laird lined out into the wind in left, Michael Young hit a three-run homer to right give the Rangers a 5-4 lead and make them the first major league team ever to score more than three runs off Joba Chamberlain in a single game, and the first team ever to hit multiple home runs off Chamberlain in his major league career.
That wasn’t the most significant event of the fifth inning, however. Rather, after a subsequent strikeout of Josh Hamilton and a single by Marlon Byrd, Chamberlain was removed from the game with what has thus far only been identified as a stiff right shoulder.
The sight of the Yankees’ young ace rubbing his shoulder during a mound conference with his manager and team trainer Steve Donahue likely sent many Yankee fans into a panic. Thus far all we know is what Chamberlain and Girardi said after the game.
When Ian Kinsler fouled off that pitch at the plate, Chamberlain saw the home plate ump rule the ball foul and came forward off the mound pointing to both Kinsler and the umpire. Ivan Rodriguez didn’t hear him, and Rodriguez’s throw to second base came directly at Chamberlain’s head. In ducking that throw, Chamberlain lept backwards off his feet and landed on his rump before tumbling over in a backwards somersault. Before Chamberlain’s body hit the ground, however, his right arm reached back and attempted to brace his fall. Chamberlain denied that the fall had anything to do with his injury.
“I just got stiff,” Joba said at his locker after the game. “It was a little tight in the fourth, and I came back out in the fifth and, it’s not necessarily even in my shoulder. It’s kinda in my deltoid below my shoulder, so my strength was fine and my velocity was fine, I just kind of got a stiff arm.”
That’s a stiff arm, not a dead arm. Chamberlain repeated the fact that his strength and velocity were unaffected (his last pitch of the game, on which Marlon Byrd singled, was a 96-mile-per-hour fastball and his strength was confirmed by resistance testing after he came out of the game). He said that when he’s had a dead arm in the past, his velocity “was terrible.”
Asked to pinpoint the moment of the injury, Chamberlain said, “It was in the fifth. It was a little bit tight early, and in the fifth, I think I threw either a 2-0 or 2-1 pitch to Marlon [Byrd] and it got me a little bit. I threw the next one and it was okay, and then the two after that kind of got me a little bit.”
Indeed, rewatching that inning, Chamberlain has some trouble locating his fastball, but he was throwing around 95 mph and mixing in his slider and curveball, both of which had their typically impressive break. In the at-bat prior to Byrd’s, Joba got Josh Hamilton to swing and miss three times on a fastball and a pair of sliders (though, as Ken Singleton revealed earlier in the broadcast, Hamilton leads the league in swinging and missing). Chamberlain’s first two pitches to Byrd are fastballs at 97 and 93 miles per hour. The 2-0 to Byrd is another 93-mph fastball, but after that one, Chamberlain shakes his right shoulder, looks into the dugout briefly, then takes a long walk around the mound and shakes his shoulder one more time before delivering the next pitch. After getting Byrd to swing and miss at a slider, he again walks around the mound and shakes his shoulder.
That’s what got Girardi’s attention. “We saw him shake his arm, so we ran out there,” the manager said after the game. “I didn’t think it was anything serious just because the velocity was still there. If you see a large drop off in velocity then there’s a huge concern, but when I saw him shake his arm I said, ‘let’s go check him’ and we ran out there.”
Girardi said that Chamberlain did not argue to stay in the game. He also said he didn’t think that the injury had anything to do with the 100-degree heat or cramping. “He’s got a little stiffness right here [touches right deltoid muscle]. We believe it’s muscular. He’ll have some tests tomorrow, but we don’t believe it’s anything serious. . . . I’m not really concerned that he’s going to be shut down for a while, but there’s a chance he’s going to have to miss a start.”
Said Chamberlain, “It doesn’t hurt in the wrong places to really, hopefully, be concerned, so I’m just gonna go and get everything taken care of . . . just so they can rule out everything and make sure everything’s alright. This is just getting stiff a lot in a short amount of time. It’s a little stiff, but other than that’s why we go back and just rule everything out.” Joba said he’d never had this sensation in his arm before, but when informed that Girardi intended to have him skip his next start, he said he’d, “hopefully just miss one if that’s the case”
Said Girardi summing up, “So, he’s got some stiffness and we’ll just see what it is.”
Of greater concern is the Chamberlain quote that appeared on Peter Abraham’s blog last night in which Chamberlain said, “It was something where it grabbed and popped and got stiff.” “Grabbed” and “stiff” I can deal with, but “popped” makes me panic.
As for the rest of the game, Edwar Ramirez relieved Chamberlain and retired all four batters he faced. Brian Bruney added a scoreless seventh inning, and in the top of the eighth, reigning AL Player of the Week Xavier Nady homered off Frank Francisco to tie the game at 5-5, his second clutch home run in as many games.
Bruney got the first out of the eighth, after which Girardi brought in Damaso Marte to face lefty David Murphy. Murphy tripled, but Marte locked down and struck out Chris Davis (who had a hat trick on the night), and got Jarrod Saltalamacchia to fly out to strand Murphy.
A tumbling shoe-string catch by Hamilton on a sinking liner to center by Derek Jeter stranded a two-out Johnny Damon double in the eighth. That sent Marte back to the mound in the ninth to face pinch-hitter Milton Bradley. Bradley swung through two pitches, then took the next four to draw a leadoff walk. Marte then won a nine-pitch battle by striking out Ian Kinsler. Gerald Laird followed with a walk to put the potential winning run in scoring position, but Marte got Michael Young to fly out to shallow right, keeping both runners in place. Marte then got within one strike of forcing extra innings against Josh Hamilton, but he overthrew a 3-2 fastball, which sailed high for ball four, loading the bases with two outs. Marlon Byrd then clubbed Marte’s next pitch, another fastball, over the wall in center for an unnecessary game-winning grand slam. Final score: 9-5 Rangers.
Adding international intrigue to insult and injury, this also surfaced last night. Here’s hoping today brings better news, particularly regarding the tests on Joba’s shoulder back in New York.