He'd never faced David Ortiz.
Ortiz, the Yankees menace. Big Papi. The guy who tears apart top pitchers with regularity -- pitchers with a whole lot more big league savvy than the newest Yankees rookie.
So when Chamberlain figured that he was due to face Ortiz in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's series opener with the Red Sox, he began studying scouting reports, tendencies -- anything to get an edge. And as he quickly found out, all the preparation in the world can't prepare a pitcher for David Ortiz.
"He looks bigger in the box," Chamberlain joked, "than he does on TV."
Good thing that hulking form shrinks as he's heading back to the dugout. Chamberlain got Ortiz to pop out on one pitch, and he set down the rest of the Red Sox on 18 more. It wasn't the typical Chamberlain that Yankees fans have come to expect -- this outing was far too harrowing for that -- but it was an initiation of sorts, the biggest check yet on his ever-growing list.
Chamberlain had seen the Red Sox. And he'd survived in the Yankees' 5-3 triumph.
"Against the Red Sox, there's certainly a lot more electricity, and he handled it," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He's certainly not afraid out there."
Triple-digit fastballs have a way of emboldening even the most timid of pitchers -- and Chamberlain is far from timid. He came close, hitting 99 mph with a pitch to J.D. Drew. And while that may have been his most dynamic pitch of the night, it certainly wasn't his best. Those honors went to the slider he threw two pitches later, after twice shaking off catcher Jorge Posada. Drew tried to check his swing to no avail, instead flailing haphazardly as the ball dropped to the dirt like a hunk of lead.
It's not often a rookie has the talent or the courage to throw a full-count slider with the game on the line. Chamberlain has both.
"I know he's going to have a good career," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, whose win the rookie helped preserve. "Because his head's screwed on right."
|Making just his eighth big league appearance, Joba Chamberlain turned in yet another scoreless performance on Tuesday in his first encounter with Red Sox.|
|Aug. 7||Blue Jays||2||1||2||2|
|Aug. 27||Red Sox||1||1||1||2|
And it didn't unscrew, even when the Sox took their best hacks. Chamberlain opened the eighth inning clinging to a newfound two-run lead, and he proceeded to issue the first walk he's allowed since his first big league game. After the Ortiz popout, he struck out pinch-hitter Eric Hinske, but he put the tying run on base when Mike Lowell blooped a slider over shortstop. It was just the fourth hit Chamberlain had allowed all month and only the third time he'd permitted a runner to reach second base.
Didn't matter. Seemingly never does.
"He's not afraid of anyone," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter. "He's got great stuff. He's not going to be perfect all the time, but he's been perfect for us so far."
That "anyone" means the Red Sox, too. It's not that Chamberlain is naive to the circumstances surrounding this series -- or any series against this Boston club. Far from it. It's just that his poise has become such that the opposition doesn't matter. He'd pitch to the Devil Rays the very same way.
But a game like that wouldn't hold the same weight, or pulse the same electricity, and Chamberlain knows that, too. So when Drew went flailing for the final out of the inning, the rookie jumped off the mound with a fist pump that finally let his emotions escape.
"That's me," Chamberlain said. "That's what you're going to get."
Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.