Commentary

Wilting Chamberlain doesn't stand tall

Again providing no relief, former one-name wonder Joba just 'eighth-inning guy'

Updated: May 29, 2010, 9:22 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Joba ChamberlainAP Photo/Bill KostrounJoba Chamberlain allowed four hits, four runs and a walk in one-third of an inning.

NEW YORK -- Can it really be less than three years ago when the Yankee Stadium bullpen door would swing open, Joba Chamberlain would come charging out and 50,000 people would go wild, knowing they were about to see something special -- the inevitable truncation of a Major League Baseball game from nine innings down to seven?

Well, that was a different Yankee Stadium and this is a different Joba Chamberlain.

The Stadium isn't coming back, having been demolished, its remains carted away by wreckers and replaced by a sparkling-new version directly across the street.

And neither, perhaps, is Chamberlain, his psyche shredded, his confidence eroded, his effectiveness all but gone, something to be reminisced over and regretted like the old ballpark.

Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium 3.0, Chamberlain's afternoon began the way many of his did at the place across the street, the place they used to call the Cathedral of Baseball.

The bullpen door swung open, Chamberlain came charging out and the ballpark -- stunned earlier by the sight of a pitcher nearly being decapitated by a line drive and lulled into contentment by a Yankees lead -- found its voice and its enthusiasm once more.

But it ended the way none of them did at the old Yankee Stadium, with mock cheers for a strikeout that came way too late that quickly morphed into boos for a performance that was nothing short of a disaster.

[+] EnlargeDavid Robertson
AP Photo/Bill KostrounDavid Robertson began the bullpen's seventh-inning descent, hitting a batter and issuing a walk before leaving with back pain.

You can point fingers in a lot of directions for what happened at the new ballpark Saturday, when the Yankees took a 10-5 lead into the seventh inning against a lowly Cleveland Indians team and came out with a 13-11 loss.

You can start with CC Sabathia, who for the third time in his last four outings had moments of brilliance interspersed with stretches of shocking ineffectiveness. You can move on to David Robertson, who hit a batter and surrendered a single before leaving the game with pain in his lower back. Continue on through Sergio Mitre, who followed Robertson and walked the only batter he faced.

And you can spend a good amount of time on Joe Girardi, who mixes and matches relief pitchers with both extreme fussiness and maddening inconsistency.

But wherever you begin and no matter where the road takes you, you have to end with Joba.

Over his last five appearances, he has allowed 10 earned runs, and Saturday was by far the worst of all. He came in with two out, runners at first and second, the Yankees leading 10-6 and Mark Grudzielanek -- yes, 39-year-old Mark Grudzielanek, veteran of 16 major league seasons, a survivor of the Montreal Expos, for goodness sakes -- coming to the plate.

The Joba of 2007 would have blown him away as easily as swatting away a fly. The Joba of 2008 might have done the same, unless, of course, he was overrun by the midges that chased him off the mound against this same ballclub in the ALDS.

The Joba of 2010, however, is not a sure bet to do much of anything anymore. His second pitch to Grudzie was a 95 mph fastball -- and it was promptly smacked back over Chamberlain's head into center field. Now it was 10-7 and the crowd that had buzzed upon Joba's arrival was now muttering in discomfort. The mutters quickly turned to groans, and then outright, sincere, vicious boos as, in rapid succession, the Indians began to chase him off the mound again, only this time without the help of those little winged pests that did him in in Cleveland.

First, he walked Matt LaPorta, a .210 hitter, to load the bases. Then, he grooved a fastball to Lou Marson, a .200 hitter he had in an 0-2 hole. Marson stroked it into the right-center field gap for two more runs. Next it was Jason Donald, a rookie with all of 38 career at-bats, lining a double down the line and incredibly, it was 11-10, Indians.

All the Yankees had needed from Chamberlain was one measly out. Instead, he had surrendered three runs. And he wasn't done yet. Trevor Crowe, who had started the inning nearly 40 minutes earlier when Robertson hit him with a pitch, turned on a 1-2 slider for an RBI single that made it 12-10.

By the time Joba got Shin-Soo Choo to swing through a slider, what had looked like an easy win had turned into an inevitable loss. And a pitcher who not long ago had looked like the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera now looked like a guy you wouldn't trust to pitch in a family picnic softball game.

Afterward, Girardi could barely conceal his disgust.

"We had the game where we wanted," the manager said, his face tight and the veins in his neck throbbing. "We had our eighth-inning guy in, we needed four outs from him ... and he left pitches in the middle of the plate. He just didn't make the pitches when he had to."

Not once did he refer to his pitcher by name. Chamberlain, the darling of the final days of the old Yankee Stadium, had become "he" and "the eighth-inning guy." No longer to be trusted, neither was he fit to be named.

"Players aren't going to be bulletproof," Girardi conceded. "But he's had some bad outings. He's our eighth-inning guy and he's got to get it done for us."

Theories abound as to where and why it all went wrong for Chamberlain, from the tyranny of the Joba Rules to the surreality of the Attack of the Midges to the insanity of the Yankees' attempts to take a transcendent reliever and transform him into a starter.

But the blame game is no longer productive, nor does it really matter. The fact is, right now Joba Chamberlain is as much a relic of our memories as the ballpark that used to stand across the street.

"This was a bad loss for us, no doubt about it," Girardi said. "A bad loss."

He was talking about a game, but he might just as well have been talking about the pitcher who lost it.

GAME NOTES: After a successful return to the lineup Friday night, Girardi decided to sit Curtis Granderson on Saturday, citing the center fielder's having played seven innings Thursday night for Triple-A Scranton and all nine Friday. Granderson said he came out of his first game with no problems and could have played Saturday but only found out he would not when he arrived at the park. He did, however, pinch-hit for Kevin Russo in the ninth, drawing a one-out walk. ... Sabathia did not get the loss -- that honor went to Chamberlain -- but his ERA rose once again, from 3.86 to 4.16. ... Robinson Cano (3-for-4) and Nick Swisher continue to swing hot bats. Mark Teixeira continues to struggle for consistency, going 0-for-3 but drove in a run by getting hit with a pitch by Aaron Laffey with the bases loaded in the fourth. ... Derek Jeter, playing on the 15th anniversary of his major league debut, pulled into a tie with Bernie Williams for second in doubles (449) on the Yankees' all-time list. Lou Gehrig is the franchise leader with 534. ... Sunday's pitching matchup: RHP A.J. Burnett (5-2, 3.55) vs. RHP Justin Masterson (0-5, 6.13).

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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