12:15 pm Sep. 12, 20121
It is astonishing how quickly things can change in a bullpen's pecking order, particularly for a team like the 2012 New York Yankees.
The Yankees once held a ten-game lead over the Orioles in late July, one that has disappeared entirely with 21 games left.
And if the idea that the Yankees would be playing vital games this late in the season appeared absurd as recently as a month ago, that Joba Chamberlain could figure in the most important moments of those games seemed crazy as recently as a week ago, when even Michael Kay took a while to notice the Chamberlain transformation directly in front of him.
Considering the enormous hype that has followed Chamberlain since his astonishing debut for the Yankees back in 2007, the lack of drama around the pitcher has been quite the anomaly. That appears to be changing, however.
Since then, Chamberlain has pitched three times. Against the Orioles, he pitched in a game the Yankees already trailed, 5-1, and struck out two while allowing a Mark Reynolds home run. But on Sunday, he was completely dominant, striking out four over an inning and 2/3 to earn a win. And Tuesday night, he entered in the biggest moment of his season, with the bases loaded, the Red Sox and Yankees knotted at 3-3, one out, and Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia due up. Pedroia had homered in his previous at-bat to tie the game.
Chamberlain worked quickly, got ahead, and induced a groundout from Nava, then a pop up from Pedroia, to keep the game tied.
The pitcher who followed, David Robertson, dominated the eighth, but allowed three hits in the ninth, the last a game-winning single to Jacoby Ellsbury, the only one of the three that was hit hard.
Still, it was the third loss in five appearances for Robertson, and it isn't hard to imagine the always-tinkering Girardi taking notice of how the two pitchers are faring lately.
All of which is to say that Joba Chamberlain, long-injured and forgotten until recently, may be pitching some of the most important innings the Yankees have faced in years over the next few weeks. What's more, he probably should be.
The ramifications of this for how Chamberlain is viewed heading into 2013 and beyond are huge as well. He'll receive a significant pay bump in arbitration this winter, and is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. He's running out of time to convince the Yankees he's a vital part of their future. But it looks as if he'll be getting a pretty big chance to do so, starting now.