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Joba's return to 'pen 'like riding a bike'

Joba's return to 'pen 'like riding a bike'

NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain had promised to fold towels in the clubhouse if that's what it took to help during the American League Division Series. Luckily, the Yankees had a much more important assignment to send his way.

Chamberlain chugged through the bullpen gates and charged up Yankee Stadium like old times on Wednesday, called upon to return to his familiar relief role and record one out in what became a 7-2 victory for New York over Minnesota in Game 1.

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Everything went as the Yankees would have hoped, as Delmon Young chopped Chamberlain's second pitch on the ground to shortstop Derek Jeter for an inning-ending fielder's choice. The jog in from right field took longer than his outing.

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Yankees at a glance
2009 record: 103-59
2008 record: 89-73
AL champions
World Series matchup:
Phillies at Yankees
Postseason tix: Information

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Girardi: Confident in moves
Vet quartet: On the verge
Damon: Got his groove back
Teixeira: D offsets slump
Rivera: Has no equal
Robertson: Invaluable
Jeter: Legend grows
Teixeira: Dependable
Girardi: Fresh cup o' Joe
Damon: What, me worry?
Rivera: Stoic and steady
Gardner: Finds his niche
Teixeira: Fully adjusted
Hughes: Difference-maker
Chamberlain: Happy in 'pen
Jeter: Ready to lead
Sabathia: Deserves Game 1
Swisher: A year wiser
A-Rod: Nothing to lose

"It's great -- I forgot how long that was, though," Chamberlain said. "It's a bit longer than I thought it was. It was great just to get up and get in the game, and try to help us win in any role."

This wasn't the original plan for Chamberlain, of course. The 24-year-old right-hander reported to Spring Training being promised that he would finally get a chance to make 30 starts, and the Yankees made good on that deal.

However, there was a catch involved. With rosters expanding to 40 players in September, the Yankees scaled back Chamberlain's outings to keep him under a count of approximately 160 innings.

The plan didn't work with flying colors, as Chamberlain went 3-3 with a 7.15 ERA in his last six starts of the regular season. That hurt his final numbers, though they ended as a rather respectable 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA, and New York won 20 of his 31 starts.

With the Yankees opting for the longer ALDS schedule, the need for a fourth starter was eliminated, and manager Joe Girardi saw the opportunity to revert Chamberlain to his former assignment as a feared, fireballing late-inning option.

After a nine-pitch test run in the Yankees' season finale on Sunday at Tropicana Field -- a scoreless inning -- Chamberlain knew it would be all systems go for the postseason.

"It wasn't a routine I had to get used to," Chamberlain said. "I've done it before. I knew what to expect. I knew the feelings. The only difference was going to be warming up. It came back like riding a bike."

One advantage is that Chamberlain can unload his mid-90s fastball with abandon, not trying to conserve to get through a third inning of work.

"You have to be aggressive and take the same mentality," Chamberlain said. "It's 60 feet and six inches, no matter where you put it. It's just a little bit different trying to set guys up."

Chamberlain still envisions himself as a starter in the future, and he could be returned to that role as soon as the AL Championship Series. But for now, it's a time warp everyone seems to be enjoying.

"My first postseason, this is what I did," Chamberlain said. "I was in the bullpen. It's nothing different. It didn't really feel any different, which is great. It just felt like another game, and I think that's how we're going to approach it. It's going to take 25 of us to win that, and we all know it.

"That's the greatest thing about my time here -- that I've been put in a lot of situations, and I feel comfortable in a lot of them."

Perhaps this postseason series will have a happier ending for Chamberlain than the 2007 ALDS, which will always be remembered for the Game 2 "midge" invasion in Cleveland.

Chamberlain's 0.38 regular-season ERA that year did him no good that night, when he blew a save against the Indians, though his sweaty attempts to choke back the insects did eventually produce a few endorsement offers from bug-repellent companies -- none of which he actually felt comfortable accepting.

But unlike those off-the-field opportunities, Chamberlain knows the Yankees can get some special business accomplished this season if he is a part of it, one way or another. Whatever the Yankees throw at him, Chamberlain vows to be prepared to handle it.

"I'm cool with whatever they give me," Chamberlain said. "This team has been so special that just to be on this team is an honor. You've got to go out and accept your role and embrace it and go from there."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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