NEW YORK -- The anxiety level kept rising with each ball that New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain threw. There were two outs in the seventh, and the eighth-inning man was on the job early, asked to protect a one-run lead with Los Angeles Angels' Torii Hunter on first.
Before Chamberlain even threw a pitch, Hunter was taking off for second.
By the time Chamberlain started toward the plate, Mike Napoli, the batter, saw the jump and just let the pitch -- which was a ball, anyway -- sail on by.
"It is just anticipating that that might happen and paying attention," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Chamberlain went on to throw two more balls to Napoli to make it 3-0 and the panic in the streets around the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue was palpable. Chamberlain fought back, but ultimately lost Napoli on a 3-2 walk. It was not a good start for the Yankees' embattled reliever, but would it be the end for him?
Next, Juan Rivera hit a soft infield single -- not Joba's fault -- to load the bases. Chamberlain was walking on a tightrope now, about to fall into a July abyss.The Yankees desperately want him to succeed as the "Bridge to Rivera" (BTR), but they need to be able to trust Chamberlain when it counts.
Here was a chance to gain a little faith: The bases were loaded and the Angels' Kevin Frandsen grounded a 94-mph fastball to third. Alex Rodriguez made the easy forceout and the eighth-inning man escaped the seventh, but not without making 47,521 fans sweat a little more than necessary on this 90-degree day.
By the time Chamberlain returned for the eighth, the Colin Curtis feel-good story was being written, the Yankees were up by five runs and on their way to a 10-6 victory over the Angels. That extra run came off Chamberlain in the eighth, though he did finish the inning.
It was Chamberlain's 2010 in a nutshell. The lack of concentration combined with the flash of being able to competently stabilize the BTR left his manager publicly satisfied.
"He did what he had to do," Girardi said.
Is it good enough for the Yankees to be convinced they don't have to do more to address their bullpen issues? GM Brian Cashman is telling anyone who will listen that adding relievers is not high on his list. His point is that, although everyone in the bullpen not named Rivera has been inconsistent, there are no guarantees with relievers. The best example may be when Cashman called on Chamberlain in the "Summer of Joba" in 2007, while the Boston Red Sox got Eric Gagne, who melted in the Boston heat.
There is also a lot swirling about how the relief market is not weak, and how would someone such as Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria look as a Yankee? In a radio interview, Cashman said he has not talked to the Royals about Soria, but he could be the eighth-inning guy and the closer of the future.
Just 26 years old, Soria entered Wednesday with 25 saves and a 2.37 ERA. He is playing in low-pressure Kansas City so there is no real way of knowing if he could handle the heat of the Bronx. He would also cost a lot in terms of prospects. Still, the Yankees are in win-now mode.
Acquiring Soria would not be on the level of trading for Cliff Lee, but it would be a sign of going all-in in 2010. Cashman has already shown a willingness to go for the gusto. If Soria is available, the Yankees will assuredly see what it takes to get him.
For now, the Yankees are asking themselves if Chamberlain can handle the eighth, or at least keep it warm for Phil Hughes come October.
In July, the Yankees still don't know exactly what they have in Chamberlain. On Wednesday, Chamberlain almost blew up in the Bronx, but he escaped and, as Girardi said, "He did what he had to do."
Is that enough for the Yankees to believe in him long-term?