On August 7th, 2007 the Yankees called up a young pitcher named Joba Chamberlain. It’s significant to recount this event today, because if the Yanks had any plans of sending him back to AAA to get himself straightened out, they would have needed to do it before he reaches 3 years of MLB service time. After today, he would need to clear waivers in order to be sent down. Joba was all but a footnote that night, as there was much drama surrounding the team from other events.
It was a night game in Toronto, facing the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays team was still ticked off at A-Rod for the ‘Ha! incident’ where he distracted SS Howie Clark on a key popup late in a game way back on May 30th. In Alex’s first AB the night before, Jesse Litsch threw behind his legs. This night, Josh Towers was pitching. Unlike Litsch, Towers was a true control pitcher (career 1.7 BB/9) and he nailed A-Rod right in the leg. Alex took a step toward the mound, but was cut off by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Both benches cleared, and even after things got settled down Matt Stairs tried to go after Alex as he was standing on 1B and had to be restrained by Andy Phillips. The series was already something of a beanball war to begin with, Matt Stairs and Jorge Posada were each hit by pitches in the Yanks’ 5-4 win the night before. What’s worse, Roger Clemens was pitching for the Yankees, and was well known not to be the type of pitcher (or person) to let an incident like this go without retaliation. Clemens pitched 6 shutout innings before facing Alex Rios in the 7th. Both benches had been warned, so any pitches deemed to be too close would result in an automatic ejection. On his 90th pitch, Clemens drilled a 92 MPH fastball into Rios’ back. Both he and manager Joe Torre were ejected immediately, and lefty Jim Brower was called on to finish the frame for the Yanks. He promptly gave up a 2-Run double to Frank Thomas on a ball that LF Johnny Damon seemed to lose in the lights. Brower settled down, got out of the inning and the stage was set for Joba.
Despite all the drama, it wasn’t exactly a high leverage situation. The score was 9-2 Yanks, so the game was all but decided by the time Joba came in. At first, he got off to a bit of a shaky start. During his warm-ups, Joba threw his 2nd pitch to the backstop. He then immediately fell behind the first batter he faced (Ray Olmedo) on a 2-0 count. But he recovered to fan Olmedo on a nasty 88 MPH slider, and then after a ground ball out, a walk and a single, he broke Vernon Wells’s bat with a fastball that produced a lazy fly ball to LF, one that Johnny Damon managed to see. In the 9th inning, Chamberlain struck out Curtis Thigpen with a vicious slider to open the frame and then walked Hector Luna on four straight pitches out of the zone. The next batter Aaron Hill grounded to 2B to start a game-ending double play. After the play, Joba fist pumped and pointed up to the sky. He was throwing his trademark heat, the TV radar gun had him topping out at 100 MPH (Gameday 97 MPH).
Here’s a video of him being interviewed by Kim Jones after the game. Note how he talks about “cutting off his pitches” and using the slider to “get my mechanics back on track”. Those are the exact same issues he’s dealing with today, so he’s long been aware of them and they were present even when he was at his best.
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