April 6: Yankees 6, Red Sox 4Record: 1-1
Recap: After a back and forth first few innings, the game was tied 4-4 in the top of the eighth, when a throwing error by Marco Scutaro helped the Yankees load the bases. Nick Johnson drew a run-scoring walk against Hideki Okajima to put the Yankees in front. Alfredo Aceves, Dave Robertson, Damaso Marte and Joba Chamberlain pitched three scoreless innings in relief of A.J. Burnett, and Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth for his 527nd career save.
Key stat: Yankees relievers: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Arguably, no one makes the TV/stadium radar gun more important that Joba Chamberlain. It’s not because of how hard he does throw, but because of how hard he has thrown, and how that velocity seemed to have disappear for awhile.
When he first came up in 2007, Chamberlain averaged 97 mph on his fastball. He was electric in relief and it led him to folk hero status. T-shirts emblazoned “Joba Rules” or “In Joba We Trust” were almost as numerous in shirt stores as the ones for No. 2 and No. 42. The next year he started in the pen and the Yankees tried to make him a starter halfway through the season. He averaged 95 mph on his fastball. In 2009 he was a fulltime starter. He averaged 92.8 on his fastball. This year the Yanks decided to put him back into relief and in his first album he threw, again, mainly in the low 90s.
Throughout this time, his slider, his second most deadly pitch, never changed its speed. It lost some of its break, yes, but it always stayed at 86 mph. Many thought that the fastball velocity’s dip combined with the slider staying the same didn’t cause enough of a separation between Chamberlain’s pitches in a hitter’s mind.
So last night, with Kevin Youkilis on second base, one out, the Yankees up by just a run and the baseball world watching the radar gun just as closely as the results, Joba Chamberlain jogged in from the bullpen.
Chamberlain started off Adrian Beltre with a slider on the outside corner at 86 mph. He followed it with an inside fastball that Beltre took for a ball. Joba Chamberlain throwing fastballs out of the strike zone is nothing new for any of those who watched him last year, however, this one came in at 95 mph. For those worried about his velocity and whether it could even return to its 2007 levels in relief, this was certainly a good sign.
A slider in the strike zone got Beltre to foul it off and run the count to 1-2. The slider was now about 10 mph slower than his fastball, and the difference seemed to keep Beltre guessing. Chamberlain’s fourth pitch was a fastball off the outside corner, but with Beltre off balance, he swung for strike three. It was 96 mph.
On the Yankees radio network, John Sterling wondered aloud if the team would have Joba walk the next batter, J.D. Drew. Drew was a lefty and putting him on first would allow Joba to pitch to Cameron, a righty.
Chamberlain didn’t leave Sterling guessing for long throwing three straight fastballs to Drew, each one faster than the last – 94, 95 and 96 mph. Drew took two for balls and fouled one off. At 1-2, Chamberlain went to his slider, each one breaking nine inches off the plate. Drew couldn’t hold up. He swung at both, and missed both.
The Chamberlain who came to the mound seemed, at least for one night, to leave some remembering the folk hero.