Joba's gem puts exclamation point on win
Righty throws eight scoreless for third consecutive victory
ST. PETERSBURG -- There is no debate anymore for the Yankees. If this is what Joba Chamberlain is as a starting pitcher, they are ready to sign on and keep trying it for years to come.
Chamberlain turned in his best performance since being reinstated to the rotation on Wednesday, hurling eight innings of shutout ball in leading the Yankees to a 6-2 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"It's just having confidence again, going out and being yourself," Chamberlain said. "You always need a little reminder once in a while, but it's just going back to having fun and being aggressive."
The 23-year-old right-hander limited Tampa Bay to just three singles in the contest -- two by Jason Bartlett -- facing the minimum through the first four frames and matching his career high in innings pitched.
Chamberlain walked two and struck out five, improving to 3-0 with an 0.83 ERA since he spent his All-Star break splashing on a Slip 'n Slide with his 3-year-old son, Karter, in a Nebraska backyard.
"Since he's come back from the break, he's done everything that we expected him to do," manager Joe Girardi said. "You can't expect him to be perfect all the time, but he's throwing the ball so well and mixing all of his pitches in. His last three starts are as good a run as he's had."
New York has seen flashes of dominance before from Chamberlain, but nothing as consistently glitzy as this one. The righty appeared to have all offerings working in his favor as he commanded the Rays and helped the Yankees win for the 11th time in 13 games.
"It's the best performance we've ever seen from him," Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. "The pace of game was great, and that's what we like to see. If we can see that all the time, you've got another guy like Roger Clemens out there."
On an evening when principal owner George M. Steinbrenner met with his first-place Yankees for approximately a half-hour in the visitors' clubhouse at Tropicana Field, urging his squad to keep up the good work, New York jumped out to an early lead and piled on late.
"It's great he came here. It's definitely good to get a win when he's in the house," Chamberlain said. "I heard stories about when he was here. It was a little nerve-racking. I got a little nervous knowing he was in the house."
The Yankees touched Rays right-hander Matt Garza for three runs over seven innings, including Robinson Cano's 16th home run of the season -- a long solo shot to right-center in the sixth inning on a pitch that left Garza waving goodbye from the back of the mound.
Derek Jeter led off the game with a triple and scored on a Mark Teixeira single, and the Yankees pushed across a second run in the fourth inning when Alex Rodriguez singled, moved to third on a Hideki Matsui double and scored on Cano's groundout. Garza walked three and struck out five.
Jorge Posada also had a run-scoring single, Melky Cabrera hit his career-high ninth blast, and Teixeira jumped back into a tie with the Twins' Justin Morneau for the American League lead in homers by belting No. 26.
But Jeter credited the pitching for the Yankees' surge since breaking for the St. Louis Midsummer Classic, and particularly the effort of Chamberlain on what could be a memorable evening
"Our starters have been outstanding, and Joba seems to get better and better every time out," Jeter said. "I think today was, in my opinion, the best he's been all year. He was working quick, throwing strikes and wasn't wasting too many pitches. It was easy to play behind him."
In Chamberlain's previous two outings, he had trouble spots to evade and was able to, which Girardi thought was the major difference over his first half. But Tampa Bay never put Chamberlain in danger on Wednesday, which allowed him to cruise.
"The defense can make great plays around you if you work quick and keep a good tempo," Chamberlain said. "They scored those runs early and Jorgie behind the plate has been phenomenal."
The closest he came to a tight spot was in the fifth, when Chamberlain issued a two-out walk and got Dioner Navarro to fly out, leaving two men aboard. With the Yankees only leading 3-0, it was a big out, but not big enough to prompt the vigorous fist-pumping exhibition.
"He's throwing the ball so well, and he's throwing so many strikes," Girardi said. "His stuff is crisp. I think that's the biggest difference."
For the Yankees, the only misstep came after Chamberlain finished his workload, as reliever Brian Bruney came on for the ninth inning with a six-run lead and allowed hits to three of the four batters he faced, including a two-run homer to Evan Longoria.
That forced Girardi to get closer Mariano Rivera stirring in a game which should have been packed away breezily. Rivera got the final two outs for the Yankees, who have won 24 out of 31 overall.
As good as Chamberlain was, his command wasn't perfect, sailing a pitch over the head of Longoria in the fourth inning. That led Garza to hit Teixeira in the right shoulder with a 1-1 fastball as retaliation in the fifth.
"It's about time someone made a statement," Garza told reporters. "I hate to be that guy, but someone had to take a stand and say, 'We're tired of it. You go after our best guy. Well, we'll make some noise, too.' And that's what happened."
"If that's what he feels, he did what he needed to do," Chamberlain said. "At the end of the day, we won the ballgame, and that's really all that matters."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.