Cleveland Feeling the Buzz

Even heavy-duty bug spray couldn't make Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain comfortable in the face of an invasion of gnats and an aggressive Cleveland lineup.
Even heavy-duty bug spray couldn't make Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain comfortable in the face of an invasion of gnats and an aggressive Cleveland lineup. (Amy Sancetta - Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007

CLEVELAND, Oct. 5 -- On a normal October night, stroking a two-out, full-count, bases-loaded single to end a playoff game -- precisely what Travis Hafner did here Friday night -- would be more than enough to become the can't-miss highlight of the day, the thrill of a baseball career. For this city, it is all that mattered, because that one stroke delivered an enthralling 2-1, 11-inning victory for the Cleveland Indians over the New York Yankees.

Perhaps most important for the Indians, it did not involve insects.

We'll get to that. But first, there was so much else to take in, so much more that contributed to the Indians' stunning two-games-to-none lead. Beautiful games pitched by 35-year-old Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte and 23-year-old Indians right-hander Fausto Carmona, who combined to pitch 15 1/3 innings, allowing a single run. Cleveland's futility with runners in scoring position, 16 straight at-bats without a hit before Hafner came through. Not to mention the mounting scrutiny on Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and now is hitless in his last 18 postseason at-bats, four for his last 47, cementing his reputation as a giant in the regular season, a waif in the playoffs.

Yet years from now, when parents tell their kids they were present here Friday night, all of that will be secondary to . . . the bugs. "A million of them," Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain said.

Which is just a fraction of the number of discussions they touched off in the Bronx -- and well beyond -- Friday night. The scene initially seemed normal. In the bottom of the seventh, Chamberlain relieved Pettitte -- who held the Indians scoreless for his 6 1/3 innings -- with a typically dominant performance, pitching out of a one-out, two-on jam to protect a fragile 1-0 lead.

But in the top of the eighth, the Yankees received a clue that all was not well. With two outs, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz repeatedly stepped out of the batter's box. The Yankees, to that point, had all of two hits -- one of them Melky Cabrera's solo homer off Carmona in the third. But the true swatting had begun, and artistry was replaced by absurdity.

"I've never seen anything like it before," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "It was like someone let them go."

By the time the Yankees took the field for the bottom of the eighth, they were everywhere. "It was like blankets of stuff out there," New York Manager Joe Torre said, and the ensuing scene was straight out of summer camp. Before Chamberlain threw a pitch in the eighth, head athletic trainer Gene Monahan arrived on the mound with insect repellent, and Chamberlain spread his arms and turned his back, a 12-year-old seeking help from a counselor.

Chamberlain, though, clearly wasn't comfortable.

"I don't know what you tell him," Jeter said. "The bug spray wasn't working."

The entire Yankees infield flailed at the air. But as Chamberlain said, "My job is to pitch." So he did. He just wasn't himself.

In a big league career that has spanned all of two months, Chamberlain has become something of the Yankees' savior, the bridge to closer Mariano Rivera. He appeared in 19 games this season, and his control was so sharp -- outside of his major league debut, in which he walked two men -- that he walked just four batters in 22 subsequent innings.

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