What better way to forget about those first eight games against the Red Sox than to beat them in the opener of this four-game series? It’s what the Yankees need at this point. Not only to put those earlier games behind them, but to continue rolling. They enter the game winners of three straight, and other than a three-game blip against the White Sox over the weekend have been playing incredibly since the All-Star Break.
The Yanks will take their hacks against John Smoltz, who has not lived up to expectations so far. What the expectations were for a 42-year-old coming off major shoulder I have no idea, but the Sox — their fans, at least — were talking it up like they were getting a bona fide ace in June. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, as Smoltz has allowed 50 hits and 29 runs in 36.2 innings. Smoltz’s peripherals, including a 6:1 K/BB ratio, have been good, but he allows too many hits. Worse for the Sox, he’s prone to the big inning. That’s a good thing for the Yanks.
Smoltz has gone six innings just twice this year, each time allowing five runs. His best start was a five-inning, one-run performance against the Royals in which he struck out seven. But those are the Royals. These are the Yankees, with arguably the best offense in baseball. We all know what they should do. If they can put it together, they should be able to hit Smolz.
On the other end is Joba, who has had a mixed bag against Boston this season. He allowed nine hits and walked four in his first outing against them, lasting just 5.1 innings. He limited the damages to two runs, one earned, but the Yankees would lose the game late. I need not recount that one.
The next time out Joba got off to a horrible start, allowing the first five men to reach base without recording an out, staking the Red Sox to a 4-0 lead. To say he settled down would be an understatement. Joba went nuts after that, striking out 12 Red Sox in the innings two through six, though he only lasted two outs into the last frame. That’s understandable: those strikeouts take a lot of pitches to attain. Yet the Yankees could not come back from that initial four-run deficit.
After a shaky few starts leading up to the break, Joba has been tremendous over his three post-break starts, going 3-0 with just two runs allowed over 21.2 innings. That includes just eight hits, though he has also walked eight in that span. Still, it’s a WHIP under 1.00. The Yankees need him to set the tone for this series. It’s a lot to ask from a young pitcher, but Joba is no ordinary 23-year-old.
There are a lot of things I want to see tonight: Joba throwing a chest-high fastball inside to Youkilis, Teixeira and A-Rod going back-to-back off Smoltz, the Yanks running all over Jason Varitek, and plenty more. But what I want to see the most — really, hear the most — is the Yankee Stadium crowd going crazy. I’ve been to a bunch of games this year, and yet to have the same feeling as I did in the old Stadium. In big games against the Sox in August, September, and October, that place was rocking. When Jorge Posada hit that double off Pedro in the 2003 ALCS, the place shook. That would make this really feel like the home park.
And on the mound, number sixty-two, Joba Chamberlain.