Chamberlain looking toward future
Stud reliever may return to team in 2008 as a starter
NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain refuses to look back, particularly to Game 2 of the American League Division Series, when a swarm of Lake Erie midges interrupted his storybook season and the Yankees' postseason run.
Instead, the 22-year-old right-hander insists he only wants to turn his attention to the future. The only problem is that Chamberlain isn't quite sure what he's looking at.
A dominant reliever this season, many within the Yankees envision Chamberlain reporting to Spring Training as a starting pitcher. No decisions have been finalized, but Chamberlain said he is ready for whatever comes.
"Of course, coming out into Yankee Stadium with 55,000 people going crazy, it's something you don't get as a starter," Chamberlain said. "There's different things you don't get as a starter that you get as a reliever, and vice versa.
"There's not one that's better than the other, and there's not one that's more important than the other. It's just going to come down to what's best for this team and what's best for me."
Whenever the decision is made, the Yankees will know where to find Chamberlain. Worn out after the emotional highs and lows of the final two months of the season, Chamberlain said he planned on spending a few more days in New York before returning to Nebraska for a well-deserved rest.
"I'm trying to get away from it as much as I can. I don't think I've turned the TV on in three days," Chamberlain said. "It was a rough way to end it, but also you've got to look at where we came from to get where we were.
"It's going to be a tough one to swallow for a while, but we also understand that the sun will come up tomorrow."
It was Chamberlain's meteoric rise that helped save the Yankees' season, injecting late-inning dominance into a bullpen that desperately needed an assist.
Beginning the year at Class A Tampa of the Florida State League, Chamberlain quickly climbed the ladder through the Minors and was promoted to New York in early August and did not allow a run in his first 15 1/3 Major League innings, the second-longest streak by a Yankees pitcher to begin a big league career. He finished with a 2-0 record and a 0.38 ERA in 19 appearances, and the Yankees were 17-2 in games he pitched.
At least until the midges came, which were drawn to Jacobs Field by the bright lights and moisture of an October evening.
Fighting back swarms of the winged creatures during Game 2 in Cleveland, Chamberlain threw a pair of eighth-inning wild pitches that helped Cleveland tie the game and send the ALDS on to New York with the Yankees trailing two games to none.
Still, Chamberlain said, he has no regrets.
"It happened for a reason, good or bad," Chamberlain said. "It's going to make me better in the long run. I understand that and I take it with a grain of salt. It happens."
On a day when 37-year-old closer Mariano Rivera also stopped by the Yankees clubhouse to collect his belongings -- perhaps for the final time -- Chamberlain reflected on what having the future Hall of Famer in the bullpen had meant to him.
Earlier this month, Chamberlain joked that his most valuable lesson learned from killing time with the relievers had been the sharpening of his pumpkin seed-flicking skills, whizzing the objects off the middle finger and thumb of his pitching hand.
But on Wednesday, Chamberlain was more serious, saying that it would be difficult to imagine the Yankees without Rivera as their closer in 2008.
"He's been a staple for a long time, but when it comes down to it, it's about Mariano," Chamberlain said. "It's not about the Yankees. He's got to do whatever's best for himself and his family. He understands that and we all have faith in him.
"He left a lot of big footsteps to fill, not only as an individual and as a baseball player, but even better as a friend."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.