Shane Victorino checked his swing, at least that’s the verdict rendered by first base umpire Joe West. The Yankees, especially Joe Girardi and Joba Chamberlain, thought otherwise.
Perhaps the bigger question is why Chamberlain was pitching in the 10th inning of a tie game against the Red Sox.
The result was predictable — an RBI single on the next pitch by Victorino that scored Jacoby Ellsbury with the winning run and sent the Yankees from being on the brink of an uplifting comeback in the seventh inning to a disappointing 9-8 loss on a four-hour night.
Afterward, the answers were clearer. Shawn Kelley, who imploded Sunday against Baltimore, has been dealing with a “triceps issue” described as inflammation which will keep him out for this series and into next week.
Kelley has become the strikeout machine Chamberlain once was with 66 in 50 innings, but that weapon will be unavailable for the next week or so. They could have gone to Phil Hughes but he’s freshly demoted and probably not ready, so they went to Chamberlain, someone so low on the Yankee pecking order that when they had a 14-3 lead against the Angels three weeks ago he warmed up but did not come into the game until he absolutely had to.
The Yankees had played better leading into this series but a bulk of their heavy lifting had been done against the likes of the Blue Jays, Angels and White Sox and very little involved Chamberlain until Thursday night when Boston’s right-handed portion of the lineup came up in a tie game.
Afterward, the discussion was centered on whether Victorino checked or didn’t check his swing. But that wouldn’t have mattered had Chamberlain been able to execute a pitch.
“Yeah I did [think he swung],” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating. I thought he went but you have to overcome it.”
“You all saw the replay, I think it speaks for itself,” Chamberlain said.
On the next pitch, Victorino slapped a 96-mph fastball into right field and deflation set in on a night that had come close to being positive with an epic six-run comeback. Instead Mariano Rivera blew the save in the ninth after being given an 8-7 lead.
“It’s frustrating,” Chamberlain said. “Obviously I got to make a better pitch after that but that’s the plan we had.”
The Yankees missed a chance to make a dent in their wild-card deficit with 22 games to play with and the schedule about to increase in difficulty.
“It’s part of the game,” Rivera said of blowing the save that led to the 10th. “Sometimes they hit the ball hard, sometimes it’s a broken bat.”
The Yankees wouldn’t have been at the point of having to use Chamberlain in such a huge spot if they could have scored in the ninth. They came close, but Alfonso Soriano was too aggressive and got caught stealing third base.
“I thought he was going home, but they made a very good play and got me,” Soriano said. “I was trying to be aggressive and get to third with less than two outs.”
They also wouldn’t have been discussing this had Ivan Nova pitched more like the AL Pitcher of the Month. Nova’s final line of three runs and five hits wasn’t awful but the fact that it took him 96 pitches to get through four innings was not helpful.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.