Critical roles may find Yanks' rookies
Chamberlain trusted with setup job; Hughes capable of starting
NEW YORK -- The Yankees ended their regular season in Baltimore, and Joba Chamberlain couldn't wait to return home. He had been anticipating this for some time.
"I think for about a half-hour, I didn't do anything," Chamberlain laughed. "I had no lights on, nothing. I just stared at the wall. It was great."
Consider that a vacation well deserved. The newest Yankees sensation has barely had time to breathe this season between wowing teammates and wowing fans, and now he's primed to wow whoever else comes along in October. After his first two months in the big leagues, there's little reason to believe that Chamberlain won't flourish -- not after establishing himself as the poster child -- key word: child -- of manager Joe Torre's Yankees youth movement and allowing just one earned run in 24 innings of relief.
"I played it off pretty good," Chamberlain said. "It wasn't very easy at all."
Of course, this isn't the regular season. This is October. But with all the poise that Chamberlain showed at 21 years old -- and, more recently, 22 -- there's little reason to doubt that his success will translate to the postseason.
The same goes for Phil Hughes, who, despite not enjoying quite the same level of success as Chamberlain, could also be critical to the Yankees. Hughes should be pitching out of the bullpen in the playoffs, but that's always one injury away from changing.
And then there's outfielder Shelley Duncan, who made a Joba-like splash in the big leagues when he first got the call in July. He might play a vital postseason role should Hideki Matsui continue to struggle through injury, and the Yankees will need him to make the most of it.
And that's the trend, equal parts exciting and harrowing. Having these rookies perform isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. And for the Yankees to succeed in October, they'll need every one of them to contribute in some way.
So, basically, they'll need to do what they've been doing all along.
"You can't do anything different," Chamberlain said. "You have to understand that the atmosphere is going to be a little different and people are going to be a little more excited, but you have to maintain yourself and do what you've done all year."
What they've done is succeed, at sometimes absurd levels, which is the reason they're still around at a time when most rookies are watching baseball on television.
"A lot of people play a long time to get this opportunity," Hughes said. "I'm very grateful to be here right now."
That sounds familiar. Because that's what Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera all thought a decade ago, when they created this whole new breed of Yankees expectations.
Andy Pettitte recalls his first postseason in pinstripes, which also happened to be Don Mattingly's first as well. The only difference was that Mattingly had been in the league for 14 seasons, Pettitte for just one.
And so Mattingly approached the young lefty and told him to cherish every bit of October that he could. There was no telling when he might see the playoffs again.
"I remember him saying that to me like it was yesterday," Pettitte said, before turning his thoughts to the current rookies. "These guys, they know how special this is."
And how important a role they'll play. It's hard to look at Chamberlain and Rivera these days and not think of 1996, when the Yankees won their first World Series title under Torre thanks in large part to the tag team of Rivera and John Wetteland. Back then, if the Yankees had a lead after six innings, the game was as good as over. Rivera would pitch two innings, Wetteland would come on for one and nobody would hit much of anything.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it?
"It's certainly felt like it at times," Torre said. "As far as the type of power we can throw at somebody, when we get to that point of a game, I just feel like we're at an advantage."
Especially when half of that combination stares at walls in his free time and claims he listened to music so loud as a kid that now he can't hear the roar of a Yankee Stadium crowd. Seemingly nothing fazes Chamberlain, so it's difficult to imagine the playoffs cracking him.
More likely, October will just be more of the same.
"To be able to bridge that gap to Mo is something that I want to do," Chamberlain said. "The least I can do is give us a couple of innings or an inning of shutout baseball and give the ball to Mo.
"And the rest will be history."
Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.