Joba Chamberlain battled Matt Garza this afternoon in what promised to be an exciting duel between 2 young power pitchers. Joba and Garza matched zeroes through the first two innings, before Tampa broke through in the top of the 1st with an RBI double by BJ Upton, driving in Reid Brignac. Nick Swisher knotted the score in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run to right-center.
That was the only run that the Yankees scored off of Garza, but they were able to make him throw 96 pitches in 5 innings, putting the burden of the mediocre Tampa bullpen to hold the game. They had 2 on with no outs in the 5th inning against Garza, but Jeter, Damon, and Teixeira were not able to come through with the big hit.
Joba looked strong through 5, before struggling in the 6th. After fanning Carl Crawford, consecutive singles by Willy Aybar and Carlos Pena (both just out of Robinson Canó’s reach) put runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out. On a full count, Ben Zobrist lined a slider to centerfield, which was slicing away from a running Melky Cabrera. Melky managed to make a great diving catch in left-center, saving 2 runs and bailing Chamberlain out. However, Joba could not escape the jam, walking Matt Joyce to load the bases, and then allowing a broken-back groundball single to Gabe Gross, which scored 2 runs, and gave the Rays a 3-1 lead.
Joba eventually got out of the inning, and gave way to Alfredo Aceves, who earned the win by pitching 2 shutout innings, allowing just 1 hit and striking out 4 (including striking out the side in the 8th). Aceves continues to demonstrate his value to the team out of the bullpen, being able to pitch multiple innings. The Yankees went down easily in the 6th and 7th against Joe Nelson, but rallied back against Grant Balfour and JP Howell in the 8th.
After Derek Jeter flew out against Balfour, consecutive singles by Damon and Teixeira put runners on first and third. At this point, Balfour began to get rattled, walking Alex Rodriguez to load the bases with one out. Howell replaced Balfour, and got off on the wrong foot by walking Robinson Canó to narrow the deficit to 3-2. A hard groundball by Posada was mishandled by Aybar at 3rd, who was trying to turn the double play. All hands were safe, and the tying run scored. Hideki Matsui hit a high bouncer that looked like a potential double-play ball, especially given the state of Matsui’s knees. Gimpy knees and all, Matsui was able to beat the relay throw to first, allowing the lead run to score.
In the 9th, Mariano Rivera was in excellent form, quieting any doubts that his performance last night raised, including those of manager Joe Girardi. Mo retired the Rays 1-2-3, getting Joyce to ground out and fanning Gross, before retiring the pinch-hitter Longoria on a ground ball.
All in all this was another solid win for the Yankees. Joba pitched very well through 5, and although he struggled in the 6th, his overall line will show that he pitched a quality start (which is a kind of meaningless designation). Although he was not dominant, he was able to get through 6 innings. Joba’s ability to pitch more efficiently is one of the big questions constantly raised by the doubters who would prefer Joba in the bullpen (ok, maybe it’s just Mike Francesa). While he didn’t silence those doubters (it would take a lot more than that to silence Francesa), it was a solid performance. Mariano was Mariano again, and hopefully that will shut up the media doubters for a little while. This was a game that they might have been lucky to win, but they were able to come through when it counted.
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