In most 10-run games, announcements from the public address system get met with indifference. But when Yankee Stadium public address announcer Paul Olden said “Now pitching for the Yankees, No. 62 Joba Chamberlain,” the crowd gave him a nice hand.
The fans had been anticipating this day since June 5, 2011 when Chamberlain made his last appearance in Anaheim before learning of the stunning news he needed Tommy John surgery.
The surgery was performed 14 months ago, but the road back to the seventh inning of yesterday’s 12-3 rout of the Orioles was complicated by a severe ankle injury suffered during spring training.
“You have to take a minute to embrace the fact that there are so many people that care that followed my journey back here,” Chamberlain said. “I’m thankful for that. Obviously I didn’t give them what they wanted but I can say I’m going to go out there and I gave everything I had and we’re going to go ahead and move this along.”
Chamberlain’s first outing since that day in Anaheim and his first inning at Yankee Stadium since May 23, 2011 saw him throw nine of 13 pitches for strikes with radar gun readings hovering around 92 and 93 mph on his fastball.
It started off with a bang when J.J. Hardy pulled a 0-1 slider just over the left field wall. He gave up consecutive one-out singles, but got out of his first situation with men on base in over a year by getting Wilson Betemit on a double play.
“I didn’t execute pitches,” Chamberlain said. “It doesn’t matter where you are; they’re going to get hit. A slider, middle, middle to J.J. Hardy and he gets paid to do that. So it’s just execution of pitches and there’s really no getting away from it. If you don’t execute your pitches, they’re going to make you pay no matter where you are.”
Chamberlain’s second inning lasted 15 pitches and he allowed an RBI double to Endy Chavez. But after getting two straight out, manager Joe Girardi came out, patted him on the back and Chamberlain headed to the dugout.
The remainder of the crowd gave Chamberlain a nice applause. Chamberlain doffed his cap as he looked toward the crowd, perhaps overcome with the emotion of pitching for the first time in nearly 14 months. He accepted handshakes from those in the dugout and then took a seat at the top of the Yankee bench to watch the rest of the game.
Before returning, he was making an effort not to let the adrenaline kick in, forcing him to overthrow. And despite the disappointing result, Chamberlain and Girardi were satisfied that he threw normally.
“Throwing warm ups and getting in there, it definitely was a conscious effort to not try and go out and go crazy,” Chamberlain said. “It’s obviously a different situation coming into the ballgame but it definitely was something that I had to make sure to calm down and try to take as many deep breaths as I could.”
“I’m sure there is a lot of things that went into today — being out over a year, coming back from two serious injuries,” Girardi said. “There were probably a lot of emotions that went into today. I was glad that he wasn’t over pumped up. That was my big concern with him going out there because there were a lot of emotions with the fans, happy to see him come back. So I think you’ll see him improve as time goes on.”
Chamberlain was eased into a low-pressure and low-leverage situation because the offense turned in its best showing in about two weeks. As his comeback continues, the expectation is for Chamberlain to pitch in much more significant situations over the next two months.
“I expect him to be a right-hander that gets right-handers and left-handers out, not a specialty guy and that’s how I’m going to integrate him,” Girardi said. “As he throws better obviously you give people more responsibility.”
“I don’t come here just to play with my towels and go out and play catch,” Chamberlain said. “I want to be in the game. Obviously I have to prove that and I’m fine with that. Obviously they believe in me to do my work and to understand how hard I’ve worked and what my stuff has been previous. So we’ll go out and on Friday, get the ball and go to work.”
Leading up to Chamberlain’s season debut was an impressive display by a lineup that did not score after the first inning in Tuesday’s 11-5 loss. They had a three-run lead through two innings and then scored seven in the third off Baltimore start Zach Britton and former closer Kevin Gregg.
Britton was knocked out after a Nix RBI single. Gregg gave up a two-run single to Derek Jeter and a grand slam to Robinson Cano, which gave the Yankees the chance to ease Chamberlain into facing major league hitters.
“I think it’s huge,” Nick Swisher said. “I think with the quality we have in the bullpen, it kind of solidifies it.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.