Three months ago, I would have been excited about a mid-season match-up between Jon Lester and Joba Chamberlain. After all, these two young pitchers – one a lefty, one a righty – could be the faces of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry for years to come. While most Yankee fans are down on Joba right now and many of us see a match-up with Lester as, well, a mismatch, we can still look to tonight’s game as a sign of things to come.
The Red Sox and Lester know what their plan is. Supplanting Josh Beckett as the team’s ace, Lester will start Game 1 of Boston’s ALDS series, and he deserves it. He’s 14-7 on the year with a 3.33 ERA. In 30 starts spanning 194.2 innings, he has allowed 176 hits and 60 walks while striking out 215 or 9.9 per 9 innings pitched. For the Sox, Lester has been better and more consistent than Beckett. Still, those two are a fearsome duo atop Boston’s rotation.
Against the Sox tonight, the Yanks are countering with their fourth or perhaps fifth starter. We know how bad Joba has been; we don’t need to rehash the numbers. But Joba knows that he is pitching tonight with something – pride, a postseason roster spot – on the line. In a conversation with Mark Feinsand, Joba stressed his desire to “
“It’s great for everybody to get that feeling, to play in that atmosphere,” Chamberlain said. “October is a little different, so it helps being able to play teams like Boston in this kind of series. Coming down the stretch, trying to finish strong and set the tone will be good. People are going to be getting excited for October, so it’s going to be crazy.”
It will be crazy, but that’s besides the point. Joba Chamberlain is pitching for more than just a crazed crowed of 49,000 fans tonight. Fair or not, he’s pitching for his reputation. The truth is that if he doesn’t throw 5 innings of two-run ball, Yankee fans will not be happy to see Joba Chamberlain enter this game or exit the game. Even though Joba will reach 150 innings tonight, even though he’s never thrown this many innings in one season, it’s still do-or-die for him in the eyes of he fans.
We won’t write off Joba. He turned 24 this week, and despite his bad end to the season, he acquitted himself nicely during this year against the American League. He will make 31 starts, and he will have stayed healthy throughout the season. As he grows up and matures, he’ll only get better. As the game starts tonight, though, look at Jon Lester and think about what another year can do. If Joba can improve as Lester has each year in the Majors, this disappointing end to 2009 will in time be forgotten.