ANAHEIM - Standings-wise, it hasn't been determined how significant Saturday's game against the Red Sox will be.
But the importance of it for Joba Chamberlain was established yesterday.
"It's time for him to step it up," manager Joe Girardi said before last night's game. "Obviously, we need him to pitch well. He's important to our success and it's time for him to step it up."
Chamberlain did not do that Sunday, allowing seven runs in the first two innings and lasting only three innings in the Yankees' 7-1 loss to the Mariners. The intent was for Chamberlain, who had pitched well in a four-inning outing against the Angels Sept. 14, to go five innings.
It was a bad start by any definition, making the righthander's postgame comments downright mystifying.
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He began those remarks by saying he was "embarrassed" by the start but then said it had been only a pitch here or there that had sunk him and that he had thrown well overall.
"Actually, it was all working, surprisingly," Chamberlain said of his stuff.
Girardi had a different assessment. "One or two bad pitches usually doesn't lead to seven runs unless there's some errors or other funny things that happen," Girardi said Mondayafternoon. "That was not the game he's capable of pitching. He pitched much better against Anaheim [Sept. 14] and we need him to pitch much better this weekend."
Chamberlain, who has an 8.42 ERA in his last eight starts, sounded in denial at best and delusional at worst Sunday. Girardi hinted that in private conversations, the 23-year-old is more realistic about his performance.
"I think that at times anyone can be in some form of denial," Girardi said. "Now, what he says to you [reporters] and what he says to us might be two different things. I think players always are positive people and confident people, but there's no doubt about it, Joba needs to pitch better, and he knows that. He'll be the first one to tell you he knows it. Sometimes what they actually say publicly and what they say privately can be two different things."
Chamberlain said "I'm fine" several times Sunday, which to Girardi was an indication that things were the opposite.
"If I'm not mistaken, he used the word . . . he said, 'I'm fine, I'm fine,' " Girardi said with a smile. "My wife has always taught me when you say you're fine, that's not a good thing to say. So I'll leave it at that. I know when she says she's fine, she's not fine."
Girardi said he was "satisfied" with the conversations he's had with Chamberlain after previous poor starts. Girardi said the content of those talks will "remain private" but did say, in regard to Sunday's outing, that "he didn't tell me he threw a good ballgame Sunday, he did not."
After facing Boston on Saturday, Chamberlain will have one more start before the postseason. Although it is unlikely the Yankees will start him in the first round if they finish first and choose the Division Series in which only three starters are needed, he would be needed as the No. 4 starter for the ALCS if the Yankees get that far.
"I think he knows he's not throwing the ball like he's capable," Girardi said. "I think he understands that."