By Jon Lane
Learning. Maturing. Those were the operative words that came out of Joba Chamberlain’s start Friday night. In holding the Red Sox to three runs on five hits in six innings he earned his first win since August 6 against Boston, snapped an eight-start winless stretch and trimmed the Yankees’ magic number to three.
Best of all, he looked at himself in the mirror and accepted responsibility. In no uncertain terms, Joe Girardi and his coaches told Chamberlain, time to grow up. And when Chamberlain’s night was over, pitching coach Dave Eiland told him in the dugout, good job, great attack and remember what this feels like. For good measure, Chamberlain was awarded the WWE Championship belt as Yankees Player of the Game as decided on by his teammates.
“There comes a point in your career where you look at yourself in the mirror,” Chamberlain said. “I needed to do that.
“As a man you take a challenge and you do two things with it. You either step up or you run away from it. I’ve
never ran away from anything in my life and I’m not going to start now.
It’s going to take a lot more than a couple of bad starts to get me out
of my rhythm. When you have a coach like that who tells you like it is,
not only as a coach but as a person, it’s really gratifying.”
Another encouraging sign: Chamberlain’s rapport with Jorge Posada. The two were in sync to where Chamberlain believed it was the best connection had all season.
“It’s pretty easy when Georgie is on the same page with me,” Chamberlain said. “That’s probably the best we’ve been, on the same page, in a few starts. When you’re on the mound and you what he’s going to call, and he knows what you want, it’s pretty easy to stay in that rhythm. You keep your teammates in the game.”
Girardi wouldn’t formally commit to a playoff spot, or anything beyond Wednesday when Chamberlain makes his final start of the regular season. Perceptions change in this city faster than blinks of an eye, but bet on Chamberlain playing a big role in the playoffs, bigger that than of Chad Gaudin. Gaudin may be a reliable arm, but Chamberlain is a future franchise pitcher. It’s time for him to earn his stars and stripes.
“It’s an important time of year and we told him we needed him to step up,” Girardi said. “He did tonight. We told him we know he’s capable of pitching better and we need him do it.”
When he gets that chance, the handcuffs are off. There won’t be any finite number to fret about.
“That’s all over with,” Chamberlain said.
A few quick notes before wrapping up.
? Jon Lester, day-to-day with a right quad bruise, wants to make his next start. Terry Francona tends to agree, but is still proceeding with caution.
“When it first happened, it sounded and looked terrible,” Francona said. “He got X-rays done and they came back clean. He actually might be right on turn for his next start, but we’ll see how he feels and figure out the right thing to do.”
My two cents: Rest that knee and fine-tune him for Game 1 of the ALDS in Anaheim.
? The Yankees’ seven stolen bases was their most since swiping eight on June 2, 1996.
? The Red Sox must hate playing at Yankee Stadium. They’ve been outscored 34-13 their last five games here.
By Jon Lane
Because the Yankees knocked Roy Halladay out of the park three times, because Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera survived self-inflicted storms, and thanks to Evan Longoria’s second home run that capped a four-hour and 57-minute game, the Yankees are ensured to remain in first place when they come home to meet the Red Sox Thursday night.
New York defeated Halladay and Toronto, 5-3. Boston fell to Tampa Bay, 4-2, in 13 innings. The Yankees lead the AL East by 1 ½ games. While the Yankees sweated out a victory, the Red Sox blew a 2-0 sixth-inning lead. Instead of riding a five-game winning streak, the Red Sox enter tonight deflated, exhausted and looking for bullpen help.
What does this mean for this pivotal four-game series? Nothing. Every day, every game, a story is re-written. And until the Yankees take significant steps to erase their 0-8 record against their rivals, the Red Sox own a major psychological advantage.
Onto a few of a latest storylines from both sides:
? Terry Francona got heat in Boston this morning for pitching to Longoria, who tied the game by going yard off Daniel Bard in the eighth, with first base open. The Rays’ sophomore slugger is second in the league with 81 RBIs and has eight homers and 24 RBIs lifetime against Boston pitching. He’s also dusted right-handers this season (.281-16-61) and in his brief career (.283-35-128). On Sports Radio WEEI, Dale & Holley were wishing that Francona walked Longoria, pulled Takashi Saito and brought in Clay Buchholz to face Ben Zobrist with the thinking if he loses Zobrist, he has a favorable matchup with Joe Dillion.
Walking Longoria was not an option, reported The Boston Globe. Francona indicated he felt he also would have had to walk Zobrist to make the decision worthwhile, which would have left the control-challenged Saito facing Joe Dillon with the bases loaded and the possibility of a game-ending walk. Furthermore, Buchholz wasn’t coming in until the 14th.
? Since Francona’s bullpen is worn out after using six relievers, and with Brad Penny (7-5, 5.07 ERA) coming off a July when he pitched three five-inning games, expect a roster move to import help from Triple-A Pawtucket.
? Remember when Jason Bay started Boston’s 8-0 run against the Yankees with a two-out, game-tying ninth-inning home run off Rivera on April 24? A bum hamstring has kept Bay out the last two games and he has just five RBIs since June 24. In July, Bay batted .192 with a homer and 29 strikeouts in 79 at-bats.
? Pettitte’s fine second half continued when he allowed only a run in 6 1/3 strong innings Tuesday night. The left-hander is approaching incentives that could earn him an additional $6.5 million in bonuses, writes Peter Abraham. Pettitte, starting Sunday night against Jon Lester, has worked 134 1/3 innings. When he reaches 150, he earns $500,000.
? Big start tonight (YES HD, 7 p.m.) for Sergio Mitre, the Yankees’ fifth starter by default. Despite his ugly numbers (1-0, 7.90, 1.98 WHIP, .400 BAA), Mitre isn’t pitching for his job (yet) simply because alternatives are limited. Unless the Yankees trade for a reliable back-end starter after he clears waivers, you have Josh Towers, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2007 but was named International League Pitcher of the Week after going 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts. And there’s Kei Igawa. Enough said there.
Mitre cited a flaw in his delivery that’s been flattening his sinker, one he’s confident he can fix, writes Anthony McCarron.
By Jon Lane
Curt Schilling officially retired today after 20 seasons in baseball. He leaves with a rap sheet of conflicts with players and media a mile long, but I’m not talking about that here. Rather, I recall the night when his grit and guts transformed him to one of the greatest impact players in the game’s history.
I begin with the afternoon of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. I’m standing on the field at Fenway Park figuring out my next move when Kevin Millar comes out of the dugout and heads towards the outfield for a workout. The Red Sox were down 3-0 to the Yankees and their dubious history was about to strangle them for the 87th consecutive year. The tension around the team and the city was palpable … or so it seemed.
In response to an inquiry, Millar turned to me and a few of us hanging out behind the first base line. Wearing that infectious — and in this case a devious — smile, Millar said, and I paraphrase, “These guys [the Yankees] had better win tonight. Or else we have Pedro [Martinez] in Game 5 and Schill in Game 6. Once it’s 3-3 anything can happen!” Of course, this eventually became part of Boston lore, but me and this small group of writers were the first to hear it.
The Red Sox won the next two games beginning with a Game 4 rally that started when Mariano Rivera walked Millar to lead off the bottom of the ninth ahead by a run. We’re back in New York for Game 6 and a showdown between Schilling and Jon Leiber, the Yankees’ best postseason starter that October. The Yankees smashed Schilling for six runs in three innings in Game 1. As it turned out, Schilling pitched with a loose tendon in his right ankle and his status for the rest of the series was in doubt. The next few days, Red Sox manager Terry Francona was peppered with inquires as rumors persisted Schilling would give it a go if the series were to extend to six games. When the pieces were put together, a surgical procedure done by the team doctor sutured the loose tendon and Schilling was on the mound for another of one of the Red Sox’s infinite do-or-die games.
Blood seeping through his sock during the game, all Schilling did was pitch seven innings of one-run ball to carry Boston to a 4-2 win, one that wasn’t secured until closer Keith Foulke struck out Tony Clark with two runners on in the bottom of the ninth. Like many of his teammates, Schilling talked tough, standing up to the Yankees’ mystique and aura tag-team, and backed up every word.
Schilling finishes 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA and 3,116 strikeouts, 14th on baseball’s all-time list. Much more important are his postseason numbers: 11-2 (the finest of any pitcher with at least 10 decisions) and 2.23 ERA in 19 career starts. The sock lives in the Hall of Fame. Sock, blood and right foot will reunite in five years. You can love, loathe or not give a damn about Curt Schilling, but you cannot deny his courage and grace under pressure.