Monday, July 20, 2009

That's The Joba We Expect

A fist-pump and a yell. It's been a long time since we've seen that Joba Chamberlain.

With runners on the corners and one out during the fifth-inning Sunday, Joba was in quite a jam. The score was tied and he was locked in a delightful pitchers' duel with Edwin Jackson. One mistake to the Tigers' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters and Joba would be staring at a loss.

But Joba found another gear -- something we haven't seen him do much this season. First he got Miguel Cabrera to popup to Robinson Cano just beyond second base in shallow center. Then, with a 3-and-2 count, Joba reached back and unleashed a 97 mph fastball that blew away Marcus Thames.

Joba let out a yell and pumped his fist, and with the help of homers from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, he beat the Tigers 2-1 on Old Timers' Day for his first win at Yankee Stadium this season.

The Yankees swept the AL Central-leading Tigers and moved a game behind the Red Sox in the AL East.

From the start it was clear that Joba was a different pitcher than the one who was shelled against the Blue Jays and Angels in his final two starts of the first half. He worked quicker and was much more aggressive in the strike zone with his fastball.

"Being away for four days (for the All-Star break), I realized I was having fun, but I wasn't being myself," Joba said. "That's not fair to me or my teammates."
Could it be that a simple change in mind-set will fix all of Joba's problems? We'll see.

Of course an extended break can cause a pitcher to be too strong and Joba did have some early trouble.

After Curtis Granderson grounded out on two pitches to lead off the game, Placido Polanco battled Joba and earned a walk. Cabrera followed with a single and Joba was in a jam right off the bat.

But Joba got Thames to fly to center and struck out Clete Thomas with a slider to snuff the treat.

Jackson was dominant through the first three innings, allowing just a gift double to Teixeira in the first when left fielder Josh Anderson couldn't find the ball in the high sky. Apparently Johnny Damon isn't the only one to struggle with the stadium tough sun field.

The Tigers finally broke through in the fourth when Joba hung a breaking pitch that Thomas, leading off, deposited into the bleachers in right-center. But Joba stayed composed and set down the next three in order.

A-Rod got the run back in the bottom half when, with two outs, he got a hold of a fastball that got too much of the plate and blasted it into the bullpen in left-center to tie it at 1.

Joba's trouble in the fifth really wasn't of his own making and he actually did a great job bailing out his fielders. With one out, Granderson hit a low, sinking liner to right center that Nick Swisher charged, but got caught in-between. The ball fell in front of Swisher, who then failed to knock it down, allowing it to roll to the wall for a triple.

Joba then hit Polanco on an 0-and-2 pitch to set up the big moment. He got through it and seemed to regain that swagger he had when he was coming out of the bullpen. He then breezed through the sixth and into the seventh.

"That's a tough spot that he was in there and he did the job," manager Joe Girardi said. "I think it did give him a little momentum. It was the first time we saw him show emotion in a while and it gave him a little lift in the sixth and seventh."

But Joba and the Yankees still needed a run and Teixeira delivered in the sixth. With one out, Jackson fell behind Teixeira 3-and-0. The next offering was borderline, low and in. Teixeira thought it was a ball, but it was called a strike. The next pitch was in the same spot and Teixeira crushed it into the second deck in right.

Joba got the first two outs in the seventh with ease before Girardi went to lefty Phil Coke to get Granderson. Phil Hughes pitched the eighth and Mariano Rivera the ninth for his 26th save.

(Just a quick observation: Joba, Coke, Hughes that's awfully nice production coming from the Yankees' farm system.)

Joba allowed one run on three hits and three walks in 6-2/3 innings, throwing 68 of 107 pitches for strikes. He struck out eight with at least one in each inning except the second, and whiffed five of the last six batters he faced.

This was a big step for Joba, but it was only one start. For it to mean anything, he needs a repeat performance in his next start Friday against the A's.

Still, that show of emotion, that fist-pump was a great sign and hopefully an indication that the old Joba is back.

Runners In Scoring Position
Sunday
0-for-5 (.000)
Season
221-for-841 (.263)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
4-for-22 (.182)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
155-for-569 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Monday vs. Orioles, 7:05 p.m., YES
David Hernandez (2-2, 3.94 ERA) vs. Andy Pettitte (8-5, 4.85)

Hoping the All-Star break had the same effect on Pettitte as it did on Joba.

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