Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Season rides on Joba's shoulder

Watching Joba Chamberlian mow down the Rangers through three innings last night, I actually began thinking to myself how the big right-hander had saved the Yankees' season.

His record didn't necessarily back up my point -- he was credited with just four wins entering Monday -- but the way Joba carried himself had transformed the Yanks rotation. That Friday night in Fenway was the perfect example. After overpowering Boston for six innings, he fired a 98-mph fastball over Kevin Youkilis' head in the seventh. It was a statement ... there was a new sheriff in town. When Youkilis flailed helplessly at a nasty slider to strikeout two pitches later, you could see the smoke coming out of his ears. The Evil Empire had a new face.

Now, just as it has seemed to be all season for the Yankees, things are completely up in the air. Joe Girardi and trainer Gene Monahan came out to the mound in the fifth inning in Texas, and Joba -- the most coveted property in Yankee land -- pointed to his upper arm. He flew back to New York today to have tests on what was labeled as a "stiff shoulder."

Nevermind the fact that a shorthanded Yanks bullpen couldn't nail down an important game in a 9-5 loss to the Rangers. The story afterwards was all Joba. How could it not be?

You won't find a more optimistic sports fan than me. Hell, I actually think my New York Jets will win the Super Bowl every year. I'm that messed up. But losing Joba from the rotation for an extended amount of time would be a death blow to this Yankees team. They don't have the horses to run in the AL East without him and with the trade deadline passed, your replacement options are non-existent. The Yankees survived this far without Wang because of Joba. Without either, it's time to start looking toward next year.

Chamberlain tried to downplay the injury after the game, saying the discomfort was actually just below the shoulder and the fact that he didn't lose velocity tells him it's not a serious issue. But the 22-year-old still has work to do on his poker face. You could see the worry behind his eyes as he admitted that the pain was something he had never felt before.

Joba is the Yankees' No. 1 commodity. Gifted right-handers like Chamberlain come out of farm systems once a generation, so you know the Bombers will take every precaution to ensure they don't aggravate the ailment. This includes the near certainty that he lands on the disabled list. That he has thrown his final competitive pitch of 2008 is a possibility as well.

When Wang was first hurt, Yankees fans like me hoped against hope that all the grim early reports of the injury's seriousness were premature. But we all knew deep down the Wanger was done. The only peace of mind to take out of this uncertain time is that we have no evidence that leads us to believe that Joba is finished. There remains a very real possibility that he could be back on the mound for the Yanks later this month. We need that possibility to be a reality.

The Yankees continue to fight for their playoff lives tonight in Texas. But the true fate of their season rests in a hospital examination room in New York. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Coast 2 Coast said...

Dan, I agree with you on Joba. If he misses more than two starts, you can probably say goodbye to this season. The Rays are playing too well, and you know the Sox will do enough to get in. My hunch is that it is a mild rotator cuff strain and he will miss two starts exactly. But we won't know until Dr. Altchek takes a look at him.