Pettitte, Joba pitch Yankees to win
Sweep averted in Baltimore with a little help from Giambi
BALTIMORE -- The bullpen gates swung open for the ninth inning, and Mariano Rivera coasted across the outfield, the same graceful gait the Yankees closer has showcased for years.
Except this time, there was a little crosstown traffic, with Joba Chamberlain charging back across the playing field for more work. By the time Rivera polished off the Yankees' 4-2 victory over the Orioles, Chamberlain was once again on a mound, continuing to get his legs into shape for a potential start early next week.
"It was a little weird, but other than that, everything went really well," Chamberlain said.
The latest phase of Chamberlain's transition into the Yankees' starting rotation was considered an all-around success on Wednesday. The right-hander threw 1 1/3 innings of scoreless ball, firing 28 pitches in game competition before getting all the way up to 55 pitches with extra work behind the closed gates.
It made for a fascinating backdrop on a night when Andy Pettitte was solid into the seventh inning and Jason Giambi homered for the second consecutive game, helping New York salvage the final game of a three-game series.
Though Pettitte dealt with a steady stream of baserunners among eight hits, he was only touched for a two-run homer to Melvin Mora in the third inning that briefly gave Baltimore their only lead. Even though his pitches "didn't feel great," Pettitte found enough of his four-seamer and cutter to be successful.
Victorious for the second consecutive start, Pettitte escaped a second-and-third, one-out situation in the first inning that allowed him to breathe a deep sigh of relief and set the tone.
Later, he turned in what manager Joe Girardi called "the big play" in the fifth inning of a tie game, picking off Brian Roberts from second base with one out, thus rendering Nick Markakis' double later in the inning harmless.
"Yeah, that was big," Pettitte said. "He was getting extremely aggressive out there."
Making way for what may be Chamberlain's final relief appearance, Pettitte exited after 6 2/3 innings and 96 pitches, even though he playfully grumbled later that he still felt as though he had plenty left. The timing of Chamberlain's workload was not a surprise, though Pettitte said his intent was to pitch deep into the game regardless.
"There'd be a fight out there on the mound if he was going to throw four or five innings tonight," Pettitte said. "I wanted to give us seven or eight innings and whatever they were going to do with him, they were going to have to figure out how to do that. We were trying to win a ballgame out there."
Chamberlain did help them accomplish that, innings after Giambi drove in two runs, including a 410-foot solo shot toward the warehouse in right field. Giambi's fourth-inning homer, his team-leading 11th, was the 42nd ball hit onto Eutaw Street, giving him three of the last four homers hit to that area by Camden Yards opponents.
"I ran into a few, and they still only count for one though, so it doesn't really matter," Giambi said. "The one thing about Baltimore, they come in and challenge you. I think that's the biggest thing why they've been successful. Their pitchers come in and throw strikes and make you put the ball in play, and you've got to be ready to hit."
After Mora's home run, the Yankees regained the lead in the fifth, as Melky Cabrera reached with a one-out double and moved to third on Johnny Damon's single. Derek Jeter then hit a fly ball to medium-depth left field, and Cabrera beat Jay Payton's throw home with a rolling, tumbling slide into the plate.
Because Mora was 2-for-2 with a walk already, Girardi said he had no intention of allowing Pettitte to face the Baltimore third baseman again -- in effect, using Chamberlain just as he would have. Pettitte didn't agree with the logic, but he understood.
"It's the same old story -- Joe's the manager, and I was never OK when I got pulled before when Joe Torre was the manager," Pettitte said with a chuckle. "I'm never going to be happy if I feel like I'm strong out there, but there's a guy who throws 98 [mph] and I'm a tired old left-hander."
Protecting a 3-2 lead, Chamberlain allowed a hit and walk to the first two batters he faced, but struck out Kevin Millar swinging to end the Baltimore seventh and retired the side in the eighth, striking out another two.
"It's been a fun, fun process, but not really that stressful," Chamberlain said. "There's going to be bumps in the road and I understand that, but I've just got to get ready every game."
New York tacked on a fourth run in the eighth when Jamie Walker could not cover on Damon's ground ball to first base, scoring Matsui and providing a two-run cushion for Rivera, who pitched a scoreless ninth around an Alex Rodriguez error to improve to 13-for-13 in save opportunities this season.
With no game Thursday, the Yankees will discuss the possibility that Chamberlain's next appearance could come in the rotation. New York's starting pitcher for Monday at Minnesota is listed as to be announced, but Pettitte could make that turn on regular rest and set Chamberlain up to start on Tuesday against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.
"It's what we're going to have to talk about over the off-day," Girardi said.
The big test, Chamberlain said, will be how his body responds on Friday, after he pushes it in a strenuous workout on Thursday. The second day after an appearance was historically a good marker for him during his collegiate starting days at the University of Nebraska.
With an estimated 70-75 pitch count for his next appearance and Ian Kennedy on the disabled list, it may make more sense for the Yankees to start Chamberlain over another candidate like the Triple-A left-hander Kei Igawa, for example. Chamberlain said he is ready for whatever comes down the pike.
"I have to be patient," Chamberlain said. "I'd rather be able to have my body in great shape in September and October when those times come, rather than feel good now and have my body slow down. I know it's a process."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.