Joba Chamberlain said he didn't think about baseball at all during the All-Star break, which he said played a big role in what happened Sunday afternoon when he had one of his best outings of the season.
"I didn’t think about baseball one time," Chamberlain said. "My son’s three-years-old so he kept me pretty busy and we had a lot of fun out back. It was just…home is where your heart is and I think that was something that I needed right there. I love this place [New York] to death, it’s my second home, but going back home and being around my family for four days was probably the best four days I’ve had in my life to put things in perspective and to get a better understanding of how fun this game really can be.”
We saw some emotion from Chamberlain we haven't seen in a while when he struck out Marcus Thames with a 95-mph fastball on a 3-and-2 count to get out of a jam in the fifth. The previous pitch hit 97. Chamberlain punctuated the strikeout with a triple fist-pump and half twirl in front of the mound, a display that hopefully doesn't turn into talk-show fodder but one never knows.
“It was one of those things where you need a strikeout right there,” Chamberlain said. “That’s the one instance where you try to go get a strikeout and be really, really aggressive and it paid off.”
Said Joe Girardi: “I loved seeing it. When he’s showing emotion, he’s usually throwing the ball well.”
As for Girardi lifting Chamberlain after his 107th pitch in the seventh, Chamberlain said he could see his manager's reasoning. The most pitches Chamberlain has thrown this season is 108 - twice - but not since May 16 against the Twins.
"It’s hard to do, but it’s the right thing to do," Girardi said. "He hadn’t been over 100 pitches in a while so we didn’t want to stretch him too far."
“I understand,” Chamberlain said. “I didn’t want to give him the ball, but that’s why we have those guys in the bullpen.”
Phil Coke, who turned 27 today, retired Curtis Granderson with one pitch, Phil Hughes struck out two in the eighth, making it 13 straight relief appearances without surrendering a run, and Mariano Rivera allowed a two-out walk but closed out the Tigers in the ninth for his 26th save.
But the day was about Chamberlain, who had his best outing since his June 1 start in Cleveland.
“Being away for four days I kind of realized, I was having fun but I wasn’t being the Joba Chamberlain that I should have been,” Chamberlain said. “And that’s not good enough. That’s not good enough for my teammates, that’s not good enough for my coaches, that’s not good enough for myself. Just being away, I finally got to it, and it’s back to having fun and being confident and having that little swagger that you need.”
Mark Teixeira, who hit his second go-ahead home run of the series, understood where Chamberlain was coming from.
"All-Star breaks are great," Teixeira said. "Doesn't matter if you're young or if you're a veteran. The younger guys, maybe more of a mental break, the older guys, more of a physical break, but anytime you can get away, clear your mind and be a normal person for a few days, you come back, you're a little more focused, got that fire in your eyes, and Joba had it today."