I just don't understand it. I will later chew off my own tongue for saying this, but off the top of my head I can't think of a better analogy: Joba Chamberlain's ability to incense and polarize fans, his almost characteristic plunges and ascents, and above all, the complex mystery of his future, has made him baseball's answer to (I'm sorry) Britney Spears.
The Yankees won the rubber match tonight in a 6-2 victory against the Rays. And while the offense certainly was sparky, Joba was otherwordly. He didn't ween his way back to old form. He just came back from Nebraska after the ASB and just decided to stop sucking. Sure, why not. And not like, "Well, well, Joba's showing some signs of life." In his last 3 starts, you can count the number of HITS he's let up on 1 hand.
And this bizarrely coincides with some vague murmurings about maybe, possibly, sort of putting him in the bullpen again. The Joba saga is harder to follow than that Spanish soap opera I had to watch in high school.
Going up against a pitcher who's arguably in lockstep with Joba with respect to young talent, Joba threw the best innings he's thrown all season. Maybe he didn't have the 12K game like the one against Boston. Or finish the game. (Way to keep things interesting, Bruney.) But unlike his standard display, tonight was marked by pitches dancing all over the plate. (Electric slider vs the gunning man!... Sorry. I'm not proud.)
In 8 scoreless innings, Joba threw a varitable kaleidascope of pitches that left most of the Rays' lineup dumbfounded and completely off-center, amounting to 5Ks, 2BBs, and only 1 runner even getting to sniff around 2nd base.
To drive the point home how awestruck I was: this was the first time in my entire life that I ever texted in my vote to anything. (The Chevy Player of the Game.) I always wondered what weirdos subscribed to this practice. Now I know.
Maybe it was the Boss's glaring presence in the stands. Or maybe it was making up for last night. But there isn't a team in baseball that looks better than the visiting team at the Trop. Mark Teixeira's defense could probably bring me to tears, depending on when you catch me, notably his 87 ft leap to rob Ben Zobrist of his scorching line drive. His offense was alright, too-- 2 for 3. Homerun. 2 RBIs. The best Christmas present I've ever gotten.
Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher.. (am I missing anyone?) all contributed to the near flawless performance. It looked like someone hooked up a Game Genie to their Nintendo Baseball All Stars game. Cano and Melky chipped in a couple of dings. Jeter looks more and more like the league MVP every day, and Hideki continues to quietly yet significantly leave his mark in the box score.
It kind of makes me not even care they went 2-10 with RISP.
And the other dugout? The lineup that was taking batting practice off one of the league's most powerful pitchers last night, was made to look like a National League cellar dweller. Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford were the only Rays who could choke out a few hits, and Evan Longoria managed a HR off Brian Bruney, which shouldn't count because it's Bruney. If it wasn't for the Yanks' bullpen black sheep's quasi-unnerving 9th, the Rays would have been rendered more ineffective than a wrapping paper tube sword in a fencing match.
Tomorrow the Yanks head to Chicago's south side, where Sergio Mitre faces Clayton Richard. (Who?) NYY has now won 11 of their last 13 to steal the division lead from the Red Sox. I don't know what's worse, Boston's timid play of late, or the fact Mariano Rivera had to be woken up from his bullpen nap to relieve Bruney in non-save situation tonight.
But whether it was the Boss auditing the classroom, or the pressure to rebound from yesterday, or Joba's bullet train to restoration, tonight's game was a potent reaffirmation that the 2009 Yankees are leaving their critics and opponents sublimely silenced.
PS: Three and half up on the Sox now. I'd like them to keep cushioning this, just in case they haven't yet divorced themselves from the never-winning-against-them concept.
PPS: The Red Sox lost to Oakland. Again. It bears repeating.