06/02/09 12:41 AM ET
Joba sharp in mistake-free Yanks' win
Righty goes eight innings; defense sets errorless record
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Those pesky midges came back to spoil the party again, but this time Chamberlain and the Yankees prevailed. The right-hander hurled a career-high eight innings as New York defeated the Indians, 5-2, on Monday, completing a successful seven-game road trip.
"They've been everywhere this whole week, so you had to have an idea," Chamberlain said. "They were floating around and they started coming in a little bit more. One hit me in the back of the throat. I was just hoping it didn't get crazy."
Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez each drove in two runs to help lead the first-place Yankees to their 15th win in 19 games, as New York set a Major League record for consecutive games without making an error.
"It was just a big performance to close out the road trip," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Chamberlain's invincible rookie season melted down when a swarm of Lake Erie insects invaded Game 2 of the American League Division Series, creating memorable images of him swatting away the midges before throwing just 12 of 25 pitches for strikes.
That night, Chamberlain sat in the visiting clubhouse and accepted responsibility for his wildness, which changed the momentum of the postseason. He offered approval for a TV commercial that winter lampooning the incident, as part of an effort to turn the page, though he did turn down an endorsement deal for bug spray.
"There could be worse things that I'm famous for," Chamberlain said. "A few bugs aren't going to hurt anybody."
Now, Chamberlain (3-1) is beginning to pen a new chapter, and this one comes with greater composure and as a starting pitcher. He gave the Yankees the best of both worlds Monday, limiting the Indians (22-31) to two runs before handing the ball off to closer Mariano Rivera for the ninth inning -- just as had been intended two Octobers ago.
"You've got to find a way to battle through, and he's done that," Girardi said. "All the talk about him and his struggles, his ERA (3.71) is still pretty good. Sometimes because of the success that he had out of the bullpen in his career, I think we always expect him to be perfect every inning. But that's not reality."
Chamberlain was good enough on this night. He retired the first 11 Indians he faced before Victor Martinez homered in the fourth inning, showcasing much better velocity than his aborted four-inning start on Tuesday at Texas. Chamberlain's final fastball sizzled at 96 mph.
The Yankees (30-21) universally lauded Chamberlain's 106-pitch performance, proudly slinging the clubhouse's ceremonial wrestling belt over his left shoulder.
"I've faced him, I've watched him pitch this year, and this was hands down the best I've ever seen him," said Swisher, who gave the Yankees the lead with a two-run double off Greg Aquino in the seventh inning. "A pleasure to watch, a pleasure to play behind, and when you get outings like that, it's fun to play."
"I could tell early on, he was throwing his curveball for a strike," Derek Jeter said. "When he can throw his offspeed pitches for strikes, he's pretty tough. He had velocity on his fastball and was striking people out with his slider. He had it all working."
Even with the leather. With the Indians threatening in the fifth, Chamberlain made a spectacular diving catch on a Kelly Shoppach bunt popup, doubling off Ryan Garko at second base after thudding to the infield grass between third base and home plate.
Once Chamberlain landed, the Yankees laughed. And laughed. And laughed some more.
"It looked like he was going into a swimming pool," said Andy Pettitte, who led the guffaws from the Yankees' bench.
"I looked over and he was horse-laughing," Chamberlain said. "That's the last thing I needed. I'm trying to get another out, there's two outs. I looked over and that was the first thing I saw. He's just probably mad because he's not that athletic."
Chamberlain limited Cleveland to four hits while walking two and striking out five, avoiding the distraction of an errant swarm that descended upon him before Chamberlain started working to Jamey Carroll with six outs to go in the game.
The Yankees did not commit an error for the 18th consecutive game, surpassing a previous mark held by the 2006 Red Sox. New York took advantage of a leaky Cleveland bullpen to bat around for four runs in the seventh inning.
Swisher made Aquino (1-1) pay for walking the bases loaded by drilling a two-run double off the left-field wall, chasing home pinch-runner Ramiro Pena and Brett Gardner, and Rodriguez greeted former Yankees pitcher Luis Vizcaino with a two-run single to left.
"The pitches that I was getting tonight, I was putting in play," Swisher said. "I wasn't fouling them off. I think that I've been getting somewhat similar pitches, but I haven't been able to do the same things that I did tonight."
Cleveland starter Jeremy Sowers allowed one run on three hits in five-plus innings, leaving the bases loaded before yielding to Aquino. The Indians escaped that situation by striking out A-Rod, inducing Jorge Posada to tap weakly back to the mound and getting Robinson Cano to line out to left field.
"We had our shot there to put ourselves ahead and we didn't do it, but what's great about that is our guys stayed in," Girardi said. "They didn't get down on themselves or get frustrated. They stayed at it."
Chamberlain said that he would savor the flavor of this game for a little while, but just as he did back in 2007 with the opposite result, the time for moving on would come as soon as the Yankees reach the airport runway.
"It's awesome that we won the game and we won the series, but now I've got to look five days down the road," Chamberlain said. "How am I going to get better? It's a never-ending battle."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.