Chacon getting his postseason chance

Chacon getting his chance to make difference

NEW YORK -- Shawn Chacon didn't get many chances to be a hero when he pitched for the Rockies. Didn't get many chances to be the goat, either.

There just weren't many games that really mattered in Colorado. Certainly not the way Game 4 of the American League Division Series between the Yankees and Angels will matter.

When Chacon, 27, takes the mound Sunday in the top of the first inning and throws the first postseason pitch of his career, he'll do so with the Angels on the brink of the AL Championship Series. His Yankees will be on the brink of a long winter.

Chacon has a chance to be a hero, and being a hero on the Bronx is about as good as it gets in baseball. He also runs the risk of being a goat, and bombing in the Bronx is as lonely as it gets in the game.

Bring it on, Chacon says.

"Everybody wants to play in big games, but not everyone gets that chance," he said earlier this week. "Now I'm going to get my chance, and that's nothing but exciting to me. If you're not looking forward to something like this, you shouldn't be out there."

Chacon has pitched in big games ever since New York traded for him on July 28. The Yankees were only 1 1/2 games out in the AL East at the time, but their rotation -- expected to be one of the team's strengths after a winter of big spending -- was an injury-ravaged mess.

"I knew they needed some help," said the right-hander.

More than a few skeptics doubted that Chacon could provide it. He was 0-6 in his final eight starts with the Rockies and 1-7 with a 4.09 ERA overall when he was acquired.

Those folks underestimated the power of change. Simultaneously removed from the mile-high altitude of hitter-friendly Coors Field, dropped into the winning culture that is the Yankees, and freed of the familial distractions of playing in his home state, Chacon turned into a different pitcher.

"I think the biggest thing was realizing that I was being put into a situation to win," he said, "and knowing that I might not get [another] opportunity like this. Ever."

Chacon didn't allow an earned run over six innings in his Yankees debut, against these same Angels, and he didn't allow more than three earned runs in his first seven starts. Overall, he went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 14 regular-season appearances for New York, allowing one run or less in six of his 12 starts, two runs or less in nine of them and three or less in 10.

"He's been huge," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "I think the thing with Chacon is he's not intimidated by anything."

The pressure of the pennant race seemed to bring out the best in Chacon, who went 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in his final three starts. That strong finish, Yankees manager Joe Torre suggested, was a factor in holding Chacon for Game 4.

"He's a very poised young man," Torre said. "He's a lot like [rookie Chien-Ming] Wang. You don't see him rattled very often, and certainly that's a plus in any postseason atmosphere."

Being a playoff rookie, Chacon has no idea what to expect Saturday. October baseball in the Bronx was the last thing on his mind when he reported to Spring Training with the Rockies.

"I never would have thought that this spring, no chance," he said. "Sitting here right now and getting a chance to pitch [Sunday], there was never a thought that that would happen for me."

Now it will. And Jeter, for one, won't be shocked if Chacon plays the hero.

"He seems like he has all the confidence in the world and he wants to be out there," Jeter said. "That's not saying he's not nervous, but he fakes it pretty good if he is."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.