SEATTLE - Joba Chamberlain, as usual, focused on the positive.
His manager, for the first time in a long time after a Chamberlain start, took a different tack.
Knocked around almost from the start, Chamberlain allowed seven runs in the first two innings Sunday as the Yankees fell to the Mariners, 7-1.
Chamberlain (8-6) was pulled after throwing 69 pitches in three innings, only 37 of which were strikes. He allowed six hits, including Ken Griffey Jr.'s RBI double and three-run homer, and three walks.
It was his fifth start since the re-jiggering of his Rules late last month, and the intent Sundaywas for him to go further than he had in the previous four starts. Chamberlain pitched three innings in three straight starts before going four innings last Monday against the Angels.
Joe Girardi was looking for Chamberlain to build off that start and complete five innings this time. He didn't come close.
"I thought he'd throw the ball good today," Girardi said. "Unfortunately for us, he was not sharp and they took advantage of his mistakes."
Chamberlain suddenly has only two regular-season starts left to get ready for the postseason. His next outing is scheduled for Saturday against the Red Sox, who have cut their deficit to five games, at the Stadium.
With three games upcoming against the Angels (89-60) in Anaheim - where the Yankees have lost 16 of their last 21, including three straight before the All-Star break this season - next weekend's series carries the possibility of having more drama than it appeared it might 11 days ago, when the Yankees led by nine games.
"He's still got two more starts to throw the ball well and his next start's important, it's real important," Girardi said. "We need to get him throwing the baseball like he can."
The afternoon wasn't a complete loss for the Yankees (95-55), who clinched a tie for a postseason berth when the Rangers lost to the Angels.
Is Chamberlain in any danger of losing his fourth spot in the rotation in the postseason when - presumably - the Yankees get there?
"We expect Joba to be our fourth starter, we do," Girardi said, repeating a version of that phrase three separate times.
Does Chamberlain believe he belongs in that spot when the playoffs arrive? "Yeah," he said.
"I put in the time and effort everyone else does," Chamberlain said. "And I'm going to go out and battle and get the ball and do everything I need to do to be successful."
Chamberlain wasn't yesterday, letting the game get away from him in the second inning. With Seattle already leading 2-0, Mike Carp and Adam Moore started the inning with singles, and after a bases-loaded walk and a sacrifice fly, Griffey blasted a three-run shot for a 7-0 lead. It was his 16th homer of the season and 627th of his career.
Chamberlain occasionally sounds as if he is in denial when he evaluates one of his starts, and he pulled from that deck after first referring to his afternoon as "pretty much embarrassing" for putting his team in a 7-0 hole after two innings.
"Actually, it was all working, surprisingly," Chamberlain said, citing a good changeup and consistent velocity on his slider and fastball.
Girardi didn't see it that way, saying: "He was in the middle of the plate too much, his command wasn't good, he got in too many long counts, and they took advantage of it."
Chamberlain has never used this year's Rules - versions 1 or 2 - as an excuse, but his catcher sees it differently.
"It's tough to pitch like that," Jorge Posada said, referring to the long breaks between starts, then the shortened outings of the last month. "It's tough to pitch when you don't know what's going on . . . It's just tough to pitch like that."
Regardless, Girardi's concern is getting his 23-year-old starter right, and soon.
"No manager wants to see any player take a step back, whether it's a pitcher, a position player, anyone," Girardi said.
"As a manager, our job is to get the best out of him, and we'll continue to work at it. We'll work on getting him right. That's what you do. It's baseball.''
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