- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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On a lonely Saturday night for him, Chamberlain melted in the eighth, flushed Javy Vazquez's seven scoreless innings down the drain and delivered the Yankees their first loss in eight games. Chamberlain gave up a one-run lead on a grand slam to Seattle's Jose Lopez, but Joba did not lose his eighth-inning role. At least not yet.
"I'm going to send him back out there," Girardi said after the 4-1 loss to the Mariners.
With this team no longer the Boss's Yankees, the franchise's actions always speak louder than its words these days. Part of the reason for the interest in Cliff Lee was the possibility of insulating Chamberlain as the bridge to Mariano Rivera. By adding Lee, the Yankees would have opened up the option of eventually returning All-Star starter Phil Hughes to the bullpen and/or trading Vazquez for a reliever or two.
Although the Lee deal fell through, it still served as a challenge to Vazquez and Chamberlain. Vazquez rose, throwing 5 2/3 innings of hitless ball and seven shutout innings using a 91 mph fastball and a devastating change.
"That's as good as he has looked all year," Girardi said.
While Vazquez has been dropped to fifth in the rotation to start the second half, he has erased himself as problem No. 1 for the best team in baseball. That dishonor goes to Chamberlain these days.
There is concern about what Chamberlain is, and the Yankees, after failing to snare Lee, may have to go a more conventional trade route and snatch up a true setup man before the end of this month.
In the meantime, as Rivera waits for Chamberlain to be the proper bridge, the all-time greatest closer does it with patience. Walking out of the stadium Saturday night, Rivera said he would not talk to Chamberlain immediately. Rivera said he planned to let the meltdown breathe and then decide whether he needs to say anything to Chamberlain.
"It is a process," Rivera said.
Chamberlain is getting a little used to the process of answering the questions after another tough eighth. He has gone from huge popularity to being disdained by Yankees fans. Still, Chamberlain said his confidence is unshaken.
"High," Chamberlain said of his confidence. "It is going to continue to be high."
High was where Chamberlain's fastball was all eighth inning, and that is why he ended up in tatters.
"It comes down to command," Girardi said.
Trying to protect a 1-0 lead, Chamberlain didn't look comfortable from the start of the eighth. No. 9 hitter Jack Wilson began the inning with a single to center. Chamberlain then looked unnerved as Ichiro Suzuki nearly slapped a double down the left-field line. It was just foul, and Chamberlain could breathe again, for a moment.
Chamberlain would get Suzuki to hit a hard comebacker right at him. He turned and fired a bullet to second, desperately trying to turn two but getting just the lead runner.
Chone Figgins then singled to left. After a wild pitch moved the tying run to third and the go-ahead run to second, pitching coach Dave Eiland told Chamberlain to intentionally walk Russell Branyan. This loaded the bases but created the possibility of an inning-ending double play.
Chamberlain fell behind 2-0 and then fired a high fastball to Lopez.
"I missed the spot -- a lot," Chamberlain said.
Lopez deposited it into the left-field stands. Suddenly, it was 4-1.
"The plan was right," Eiland said. "The execution wasn't."
Now Eiland's top job is to resurrect Chamberlain the way he did Vazquez. Vazquez has been excellent for a while. In his last eight starts, he is 4-2 with a 2.54 ERA. But Felix Hernandez finished off the Yankees, pitching another complete game, while spreading out 10 hits.
Vazquez felt bad about the loss but feels good that he has bounced back from his awful start to the first half.
"It was a relief," Vazquez said.
If only he could have gotten some relief on Saturday night.
GAME NOTES: Nick Swisher hit a solo shot on the day he got into the Home Run Derby. Mark Teixeira extended his on-base streak to a Yankees-best 31 games. Hernandez has now thrown complete games in his last three outings versus the Yankees. The last guy to do that was Jaime Navarro in 1990-91, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Squandering Javy Vazquez's gem isn't enough to cost Joba his setup job.