Bring on the Red Sox! And Show No Mercy...
So the whole Justin "Joba" Chamberlain action plan has really just worked out brilliantly. I mean, everything is completely falling into place now, and all the jumping through hoops is paying dividends hand over fist now. Be afraid. Boston. His arm is rested. Prepare for three innings of doom.
Ok, I'm stumped. I've spent the season flapping my arms and sputtering about Joba, usually met with the ire of people who pigeonhole this sentiment as the hallmark evil of Yankee fans. We don't develop young talent, we have no patience, we need to develop our farm, etc etc.
Where, WHERE, is it written that if we ride this out long enough JJoba will end up being a fantastic asset? What proof do we have of this? Because he was electric in the bullpen? The historical evidence around pitchers whose IP count has increase by 100 in 1 season, clearly and overwhelmingly demonstrates that success in the rotation is far from assured.
But yeah, no let's keep at this whole pitch count limit thing. Are we seriously considering putting him anywhere near the pitcher's mound in the playoffs? Just to be clear, it's the end of the season. So, uh, at what point does the whole "If he hasn't got it by now, he's never gonna get it?" principle come into play? It's like Joba is this bipolar boyfriend who can either be amazingly wonderful or insufferably irritable. And instead of the girlfriend cutting her losses, she thinks, "Well, we've been together so long. If I keep trying, it'll get better eventually."
People don't change. We are who we are. And right now, Joba Chamberlain is a liability. A liability who's getting the nod tonight to start Game 1 of this weekend's Red Sox series. A liability who's pitted up against one of the best pitchers in the league, Jon Lester.
Now that I've met my self-imposed quota of Justin grumbling for the day... here's what we're looking at tonight. (Well, depending on who you're rooting for. If you're rooting for the bad guys, then the games mean nothing and Yankee fans are ridiculous and pathetic for assigning any modicum of importance to it. If you're rooting for the good guys, then this weekend is, as always, meaningful.)
Of COURSE it means something. If it didn't mean anything, why is it being played? And how can you ignore the simple fact that this is a potential postseason matchup? And there's nothing important about seeing how these teams match up against each other at this point in the season? To say nothing of the ever-present confidence-building at stake.
Lester (14-7, 3.33 ERA) is absurdly good. The Sox are in the position they're in right now due largely to this kid's consistent dealing. And unlike other pitchers' impressive stats, his actually span since the end of May, going 11-2 with a 2.13 in 20 starts. (I hate when I read something like, "Rick Porcello hasn't lost a start in the last 2 weeks, with an ERA of .61 in the last 12 innings he's pitched." I don't know why legitimate sample sizes never come into play when trotting out sports data.)
Joba (8-6, 4.73), on the other hand, is consistent only in the sense that his starts only fall in extreme ends of the spectrum. I don't remember the last time I thought, "Well, that wasn't too bad. It was ok." I'm either eating my words and watching him pitch a 2-hit shutout, or storming around my apartment and kicking heavy furniture.
Everyone is saying that this start is like an audition for our babied reliever-starter. But to be honest, even if he pitches a perfect game tonight, I won't be compelled to think, "Phew. Ok, lock it up. He's gold." That reaction will come if and only if he magically finds 2 more effective pitches to add to his resume.
The more significant aspect of this series stems from the possibility of a sweep. For Boston, a sweep sort of keeps them in the running for the division. For New York, we're breaking out the champagne and making a big deal out of celebrating in front of the Sox, while their fans shrug and act like they don't even care. Division titles are stupid, anyway.
This is the game where we see how our unbelievably stacked offense fares in a playoff-like wet run of the real deal. To steal a page from Jon Sterling's book, Mark Teixeira's value to this team cannot be underestimated. Ever. I'm counting on him tonight to get some big hits. Same goes for Johnny Damon and ARod (of course. Nothing makes me happier than seeing ARod tee off on Boston.)
Beating the Angels this week was huge for the Yanks, and beating Lester may be even bigger. Not a lot gets by this guy. He's smart, collected, and controlled. His fastballs have lethal movement and can hover around the mid 90's. It's his curveball that I'm the most terrified of, though. Yankees tend to beat up lefty pitchers, but this particular lefty is like the final level video game character that you can only kill by summoning everything you've got.
And here we go. I saw this one coming. See ya, emotional stability. Back on July 4th weekend. I was at my parents' place in Long Beach, listening to the game on the radio, Jon Sterling and Suzyn Waldman's enthused banter serving as the backdrop to an indisputably perfect summer afternoon. I reread my entry from that day's game last night:
In September, I will be at a point where I would gladly exchange my head (everything from my neck up) for a day like today. When it's a close game, tight defense, sealed with an ARod homerun, yet didn't raise my blood pressure even a little. If anything, it relaxed me. Because from May-July, baseball makes me happy. In August -September, baseball makes me physically ill. I'm gonna steal some Emily Dickinson for this one:
Eden is that old fashioned house,
We dwell in every day,
Without suspecting our abode,
Until we drive away.
How fair on looking back, the day
I dozed when ARod went deep.
Gone are games of "Who Cares, It's May,"
Now they just make me weep.
-Emily Dickinson and CYC
It's kind of sad that I was conscious of the inevitable tension that would govern baseball for me in the fall. Sigh.
In 4 hours, the bedlam in the Bronx begins. Say it's meaningless as much as you want, but there's not a baseball fan alive who isn't fully aware of the inevitable dramatics...the palpable tension follows these rivals around, like an insecure girl at an alumni cocktail party who has no one to talk to.