Published August 01, 2012
NEW YORK – The bullpen door swung open, and Joba Chamberlain stopped to take in the scene. For the first time in 14 months, he was headed back to a major league mound.
"You're heart gets racing again, just to know that door's opening, your name is called and you're going to pitch," he said. "It was something that I will remember for the rest of my life.'"
Chamberlain returned from elbow and ankle injuries that had sidelined him since June 5 last season and the Yankees revived a bit, too, routing the Baltimore Orioles 12-3 to stop a four-game losing streak that tied their season high.
With Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on hand and sitting with the Bleacher Creatures at the start, Robinson Cano hit a grand slam in a seven-run third inning, Derek Jeter had three hits and three RBIs on a rainy afternoon and Phil Hughes (11-8) pitched homerless ball for only the fifth time this year.
A night after wasting a five-run, first-inning lead in an 11-5 defeat, New York gave Zach Britton another shellacking at Yankee Stadium, won for just the fourth time in 13 games and restored a 6½-game lead in the AL East rather than have Baltimore creep within 4½.
"I want it to be 20 games," Nick Swisher said.
Chamberlain, the excitable pitcher who has alternated energizing and puzzling Yankees fans since his debut in 2007, had pitched eight scoreless outings before going on the disabled list with a sore elbow last June. The following day, an MRI revealed a torn ligament.
He appeared to be a month or two from returning before he dislocated his right ankle during spring training while playing with his son at a local spot that had a trampoline. Some fretted he might not return this year. Chamberlain said he never doubted or got down, inspired by his dad, Harlan Chamberlain — in a wheelchair since childhood due to polio.
"He never complained why, and he was never going to be out of his wheelchair. He was never going to miraculously be able to walk again. And I knew I was going to be able to walk again," Joba said. "It was a great example for me growing up to be able to get through this."
Chamberlain entered to a big ovation and started J.J. Hardy with a called strike, then gave up a home run on an 85 mph slider that went just over the glove of leaping left fielder Ichiro Suzuki, hit the top of the wall and bounced into the seats. Chamberlain threw 28 pitches, allowing two runs, a walk, four hits in 1 2-3 innings, including an RBI double to Endy Chavez in the eighth. His fastball reached 93 mph — four mph less than during his minor league rehab outings — and he relied on off-speed pitches.
"I was curious to see how he would do today because I'm sure there's a lot of emotions," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He threw strikes. I'm happy with that. I didn't think he tried to overthrow today."
With Mariano Rivera out for the season following knee surgery, Chamberlain could wind up as the Yankees seventh-inning pitcher behind setup man David Robertson and closer Rafael Soriano.
"He's almost like a trade acquisition," Hughes said.
Swisher never doubted that Chamberlain would make it back to the major leagues this season.
"You seen the size of that dude? That guy's a beast," he said. "Big guys like that really heal up well. He had a bad injury, man. Can't blame him for that, man. I got a kid. I take him to the trampoline thing."
Hughes allowed nine hits but just one run in six innings.
"I didn't pitch well at all," he said. "Didn't have good stuff. Didn't have good location. Was just trying to bear down and get some outs when I really needed them."
In his first outing at Yankee Stadium, Britton (1-1) retired just one batter during a 12-run first inning in a 17-3 loss last July 30. He got a no-decision in September and allowed seven runs over 2 2-3 innings in this one, leaving him with a 19.13 ERA in the Bronx.
"We're in the hunt, and I understand what I have to do to be at this level," he said. "I'm not getting it done right now. So I got to either do something or somebody else is going to come up and find a way to do the job."
NOTES: Suzuki, acquired from Seattle on July 23, played left field for only the second time in his big league career — the other was in Game 5 of the 2001 AL championship series at old Yankee Stadium. He made a leaping catch of Mark Reynolds' drive near the top of the wall in the sixth. ... Casey McGehee made his Yankees debut, a day after he was obtained from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. His beard shaved off to comply with team rules, McGehee started at first base and went 0 for 2 with two walks, two runs and an eighth-inning sacrifice fly. ... Sotomayor, a Bronx native, joined the Bleacher Creatures for their first-inning Roll Call. Curtis Granderson hit his 29th homer in the first. ... Cano had been in a 1-for-17 slide entering the series finale. His slam was his second this season and ninth overall. ... Alex Rodriguez, his broken left hand bandaged, played with his kids on the field after the game on family day. ... The Yankees were 7 for 13 with runners in scoring position, Baltimore 0 for 15.