By Jon Lane
Derek Jeter is and will continue to be the big story until his inevitable passing of Lou Gehrig on the Yankees’ all-time hits list. Not only can you watch him take his first crack Friday night on YES at 7 p.m., there are other storylines to follow while the team continues this mythical surge towards the postseason. The Yankees are an astounding 40-13 since the All-Star break. By way of comparison, the 1998 team was, on this date, 42-22 in the second half and 103-41 overall.
At 91-50, Version 2009 owns a nine-game lead over the Red Sox with a magic number to clinch the AL East down to 14 following a four-game sweep of the Rays. There was Jeter, of course. There was Jorge Posada’s pinch-hit, three-run home run that gave the Yankees their 45th come-from-behind victory. And, including Joba Chamberlain after a rough first inning, Yankees pitchers held the Rays hitless for 8 2/3 innings.
The biggest difference in Chamberlain from the second inning on during another abbreviated outing (55 pitches in three innings) was his pace. After Jeter told Chamberlain something pretty animated during that first inning, instead of shaking off his catcher and thinking to the point of burning wood, Chamberlain worked with vigor. He needed only 14 pitches to retired the Rays in the second and nine in the third, and was throwing 95 by the end of his night. You can debate until the cows, horses and chickens over the Yankees’ handling meticulous of Chamberlain, but it’s up to Chamberlain to work with rhythm and urgency. Once he takes the mound to start a playoff game, all rules are null and void. Chamberlain can rear back, not think and just throw. By then we’ll have a great idea of how good he is and how good he can be.
Did you notice that Alfredo Aceves threw three of those hitless innings? There were concerns over Aceves during his second-half slump following issues with his shoulder and back. It looks like Ace is back on track to being Ramiro Mendoza Version ’09.
How fitting was it to see Posada get the biggest hit on the night Jeter tied Gehrig and is it for Andy Pettitte to be the starting pitcher on the night Jeter may pass The Iron Horse? Pettitte and Jeter won four World Series together and have been teammates for all of Jeter’s 15 seasons except those three the left-hander spent in Houston. Also keep in mind that the last time Pettitte saw the Orioles he took a perfect game into the seventh inning. Might Pettitte dare flirt with history again while Jeter makes some of his own? Tomorrow at the Stadium will be compelling, for more reasons than one.