|Reliever Joba Chamberlain celebrates after escaping a seventh-inning jam. (ELISE AMENDOLA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Chamberlain, Rivera rescue Yankees again
As the pitch sailed over The Wall and into the Monster Seats in left field, Yankees rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain knew it was over. He had disappointed his manager. And what's worse than disappointing Joe Torre?
"I guess I let down Joe a little bit," Chamberlain said jokingly after the Yankees held on for a 4-3 victory last night over the Red Sox at Fenway Park. "He said I couldn't let one up until next year."
Though Chamberlain's 0.00 ERA soared to 0.50 with the first earned run of his 17 2/3-inning major league career on a homer by Mike Lowell with two outs in the eighth inning, it was the combination of his electric appearance and a save by Mariano Rivera that left Yankees fans relieved and Sox fans unfulfilled in the last regular-season meeting between the teams.
"That kid," Torre said. "That's really the first damage somebody did against him. And I sent [pitching coach Ron Guidry] out there, twofold, I wanted to get Mariano ready for the next hitter, and just to make sure that this kid is OK. When I see Joba pat [Guidry] on the shoulder, I said, 'Well, I guess he's all right.' Yeah, he's pretty special."
But it wasn't all up to him. Because, even after the 21-year-old Chamberlain pitched the seventh and eighth in support of Roger Clemens, it all came down to - what else? - a matchup of Rivera and David Ortiz.
"What the [heck] else?" Torre said. "You figure, why not [Ortiz] at this point in time?"
After Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek walked to open the ninth - on a 3-and-2 pitch that Rivera said was what made things interesting - Rivera appeared to be on the verge of closing out the game unscathed after Varitek had advanced to third on ground outs by Eric Hinske and Coco Crisp. But Julio Lugo doubled to cut the deficit to 4-3, Rivera hit Jacoby Ellsbury on the left knee, and Dustin Pedroia walked to load the bases after falling behind, 0 and 2.
That was when Rivera formulated his plan of dealing with, as Torre put it, "that mountain."
Not that Torre had any particularly wise words for Rivera during a mound visit. What more do you say at that point? "You get this guy out and we win the game," Torre said. "I was just trying to break the mood a little bit. For me, too."
"I'm going to attack him," Rivera said of his strategy. "Me and Jorgy [Posada] got together and were thinking, 'Attack him. Attack him in.' That's my best pitch and that's his power house. Strength to strength."
And it was Rivera's strength that won as Ortiz popped to Derek Jeter in short center field to send the Yankees back home and the Red Sox to Toronto clinging to a 4 1/2-game lead in the AL East.
Of course, without Chamberlain, Rivera might not have left the Yankees bullpen. Especially when the hard-throwing righthander got off to a shaky start in the seventh inning of a 1-1 tie.
Greeted by a double to left by Hinske, Chamberlain watched Crisp bunt Hinske to third. But Chamberlain bore down, striking out Lugo on a 95-mile-per-hour fastball and getting Ellsbury on a routine grounder to first.
In the eighth, Chamberlain broke out his curveball to strike out Pedroia and J.D. Drew looking. Only the two-out homer by Lowell sullied his performance.
"There's no managing left," Torre said of bringing in Rivera, his closer. "It's his. My job is just to sit there and be a fan and get nervous like anybody else."
And, like legions of Yankees fans, he ultimately was not disappointed.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.