Jays spoil Joba's first start

Jays spoil Joba's first start

NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain walked off the mound at Yankee Stadium with his head hung on Tuesday night. Even with the crowd offering him a standing ovation, the newly-annointed Yankees starter kicked the dirt along the first-base line in frustration as he made his way to the home dugout.

The Blue Jays had just finished spoiling Chamberlain's much-hyped debut as a member of New York's rotation, sending him to the showers before the end of the third inning. Toronto then went on to issue a drubbing, torching the Yankees' Joba-less bullpen for seven runs in a 9-3 romp in the Bronx.

Taking a page out of the Yankees' playbook, the Jays exercised extreme patience in the batter's box, taking full advantage of Chamberlain's limited pitch count and bringing an abrupt halt to Joba mania. It was a plan Toronto executed with precision to help ace Roy Halladay cruise to his fourth win in a row.

"We worked him good, we really did," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He's going to be good once he builds up some stamina and his pitch count's not even an issue, because he has overpowering stuff. But we worked him good and got him out of there early."

Gibbons admitted that he was keeping tabs on Chamberlain's pitch count, which was easy to spot on the scoreboard in center field. Going in, the Yankees' former setup man was told he'd be held to between 65-70 pitches. By the end of the first inning, Chamberlain's count was already up to 38.

"You keep an eye on that," Gibbons said. "You know where he's limited and you kind of see where he's at. You're hoping the sooner you get him out of there, the better."

In the first at-bat of the night, one of Chamberlain's famous fastballs clocked in at 101 mph. That hardly fazed Toronto leadoff man Shannon Stewart, who eventually drew a leadoff walk. Chamberlain fell into four 3-2 counts in the inning, in which he issued three of his four free passes for New York (28-30).

"I didn't see a pitch to really drive -- to be aggressive on," said Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay, who drew a walk in the first inning. "Maybe the first pitch, but he had been wild. So it's kind of like, 'Let's just see a pitch and see what he does. Work the count.'"

By the time Yankees manager Joe Girardi removed Chamberlain from the game with one out in the third inning, the 22-year-old right-hander had thrown 62 pitches and yielded a pair of runs. Girardi turned to his revamped reliefs corps, and Chamberlain threw down his hat and glove upon reaching the dugout.

Toronto remained relatively quiet for the first six innings, plating its three runs over that span on a pair of groundouts and a sacrifice fly. The Blue Jays then erupted for six runs in the seventh, when Girardi was forced to cycle through three relievers.

"To be able to get Joba's pitch count up so early allowed them to get to the bullpen," Halladay said. "To be able to score some runs off those guys is huge. We had that chance in the seventh inning to kind of open it up and took advantage of it. That's nice to see."

Halladay (7-5) will never complain about support like that, considering he entered the game averaging just 3.4 runs per start from his offense. This time around, Halladay watched six different Blue Jays record at least one RBI and seven notch at least one hit, while mixing in a season-high 10 walks.

Jays shortstop David Eckstein led the way by driving in three runs -- two on a double in the seventh inning -- and catcher Rod Barajas added two RBIs and a pair of two-base hits. The outburst was more than enough for Halladay's effort to hold up, even though the pitcher labored at times.

After Toronto took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Halladay gave it right back, surrendering two runs in the home half of the frame. Halladay induced 10 outs via ground ball and struck out three, but he hit two batters, walked another and saw his pitch climb to an uncharacteristic 102 in six innings.

"Halladay was good, but they made him work," Gibbons said. "He held them to two runs, but it wasn't easy. He was in some jams, but that's why he is who he is. He gets out of that stuff."

Chamberlain could someday evolve into an ace starter such as Halladay, but the Yankees' youngster is sure to endure bumps in the road like Tuesday's. Even Halladay -- known for his extreme focus -- admitted that it was hard to ignore the hype that surrounded the game.

"You notice," Halladay said. "Obviously, there was a lot of excitement for him. As far as my part goes, it's pretty much normal, but there was definitely a lot of excitement around the fact that he was starting."

The Blue Jays were just happy Chamberlain was limited in how long he was permitted to be on the mound. That certainly helped Toronto formulate its strategy.

"It's tough going out there on a pitch count when the other team knows about it," Eckstein said with a smile.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.