Here’s what I wrote prior to Joba Chamberlain’s last start of the first half:
Joba Chamberlain . . . got an ego check his last time out when he allowed eight runs in 3 2/3 innings. Joba’s been a bit obstinate about his performances thus far this season, often giving too much credit to the opposing lineup as well as to his own ability to make good pitches, when in reality he’s been inefficient, nibbly, and his velocity has lacked consistency. He’s still been valuable, but his lack of progress is becoming disturbing. Part of me almost wants him to get his ass handed to him tonight so he has to ugly outings staring him in the face through the All-Star break. The hope being that might put a crack in some of his delusions.
Joba did indeed get smacked around in that start against the Angels, allowing five runs on nine hits in just 4 1/3 innings while using up 94 pitches, and it seems those two starts did indeed give him something to think about during the break. Since play has resumed, Chamberlain has been the pitcher those of us who argued for his restoration to the rotation envisioned. He’s an ace, a dominating horse who is only getting better each time out. Dig these three lines:
6 1/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 8 K, 107 pitches
7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 100 pitches
8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 101 pitches
Two runs on six hits in 21 1/3 innings? That’s sick, and surely a little bit lucky, but there’s no denying that Joba Chamberlain has finally arrived.
That last line is what he did to the third-best offense in the league in Wednesday night’s rubber game against the Rays. Joba was quite simply mowing them down. With his new no-nonsense approach, he was getting the ball and getting set on the mound so quickly that even Jorge Posada was trying to slow him down. He retired the first eight men he faced, and after Posada threw out Jason Bartlett with two outs in the third (thanks to a great jump, catch, and tag by Robinson Cano) he faced the minimum through 4 1/3. He walked two in the fifth, but stranded them both and didn’t walk another batter in the entire game. The only hits he allowed were a pair of singles to Bartlett and an infield single off his own glove in the sixth. He had his fastball clocking in around 94 miles per hour and great movement on his slider and curve. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The Yankees, meanwhile, picked away at Matt Garza. Derek Jeter led off the game with a triple on a ball misplayed in the right-field corner by Gabe Gross then scored when Mark Teixeira singled through three drawn-in infielders on the right-side. In the fourth, Alex Rodriguez singled, moved to third on a Hideki Matsui double, and scored on a Robinson Cano groundout. Cano then blasted a homer in the sixth after fouling a ball off his shin. With sidearming lefty Brian Shouse on in the eighth, Bartlett threw away a grounder by Matsui, putting Hideki on second, from where Posada was able to drive in pinch-runner Cody Ransom with a single to make it 4-0. Melky Cabrera and Mark Teixeira then added solo homers off Dan Wheeler in the ninth.
The Yankees nearly needed all of those runs as Brian Bruney, in to finish off a 6-0 game, gave up a triple and a homer to his first two batters (Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria). After getting Ben Zobrist to pop out, he then gave up a double to Carlos Peña. Before Bruney could pitch for the cycle, Joe Girardi brough in Mariano Rivera to lock down the series against a division rival. Rivera walked Gabe Gross, but struck out Pat Burrell and Michel Hernandez around him to secure the 6-2 win and the 3-2 series victory. With the win, the Yankees gained a game over the Red Sox, who lost to the A’s, and tied Joe Torre’s Dodgers for the best record in baseball.
Bruney’s showing was the one sour note on the night. If Bruney can’t step up, it’s going to be that much harder for the Yankees to feel comfortable moving Phil Hughes back into the rotation, if they’re even considering such a move at all. Meanwhile, Joba’s next start lines up with the Yankees’ off-day on Monday. Given the fact that his longer outings have him racing toward his innings limit, would the Yankees consider skipping him in Toronto? He’ll get to pitch in the weekend series against the Red Sox either way. If so, they could skip him again on August 24 in lieu of starting him against the Rangers at home on the 25th.