Oh, how you tease.
You were brilliant in Cleveland last night. 8 innings pitched, 4 hits, 2 walks, 2 runs, 5 strikeouts, and you still hit 97 on the radar gun in the 8th (although I’m pretty sure the gun was a little fast, but 95 is okay by me). You had never gone 8 innings in your career, and you’ve rarely thrown that hard in any start this season, let alone that late in the game.
This is what we’ve expected from you since you came into our lives two years ago. We saw the potential, the 98 mph heater, the devastating slider. We heard whispers of a good change and a curve you could throw for strikes. We marveled at your strikeouts, your velocity, your ferocity on the mound. You weren’t scared out there. We all instantly recognized Mariano’s poise in you. We turned to each other in the stands and smiled and said, “There’s Mo’s successor.” It was 1996 all over again and Yankee fans realized we had our next dominant closer for a decade and a half. Only this time, you replaced Rivera’s cool, confident swagger with an intensity and fire we recognized from Boston’s own flame hurlin’ reliever. We envisioned Joba vs. Papelbon duels, the PTI guys arguing who was the better closer, and bean balls and retaliation galore. You threw at Youkalis. You were not afraid. Gone was the Joe Torre School of Nice Baseball. These weren’t your older brother’s Yankees, and you were the reason, and we liked it.
Then we heard you wanted to be a starter. You started in the minors, you had these other pitches, and you wanted to use them. My god, we thought, you’re Roger Clemens. You have the same build, the same disposition, the same competitiveness, the same blistering “I’m throwing this for a strike so you better swing at it” fastball. You could be the clean Roger. You could throw at batters without throwing bats. Sub-three ERAs and 250 K seasons danced in our heads. We could be extra proud of you because the Yankees drafted you, developed you, and no BC grad who forgets to pronounce his R’s could yell at us for throwing a bag of money at you.
But it didn’t go exactly as planned. You showed flashes, but you were wild, which we expected. It would take some time to stretch you out and get you used to pitching 6,7,8 innings. But it was more than a lack of control. You started nibbling, not trusting your stuff. You were on a strict pitch count, which didn’t help. But we were patient. It was your first season in the majors, and we saw the potential. We knew what could be and what would be, so we waited.
Now it’s 2009. We are New York fans, which means we are impatient. Recently we got used to winning World Series again, and we haven’t won a championship in nearly a decade. The Yankees won 26 World Series from 1923-2000, so going 8 years without a ring defies the law averages. You know this, Joba. And we know you know this. That’s why you frustrate us.
Your velocity started slipping. In your attempts to become a pitcher instead of a thrower you lost the stuff that made you able to be just a thrower, if that makes sense. But you showed us flashes. You threw a 7 inning 3 hitter in Detroit when the Yankees desperately needed it. You followed it up by striking out 12 Red Sox in the Bronx, but you only lasted 5 2/3 and you got tagged for four runs in the 1st. You had a couple of “quality starts” in a row, but by definition only. A quality start is at least six innings pitched and no more than 3 earned runs allowed. But by that definition, a starter who throws 33 quality starts would pitch under 200 innings with a 4.50 ERA. We expect more from you.
You lasted 4 innings in Texas. Mike Francesa started yelling even louder for you to return to the bullpen. I started to agree with him. I wanted to be patient, to give you time to develop. I didn’t want to be the typical New York fan who demanded winning NOW at the cost of winning tomorrow. But, have you seen your bullpen Joba? Do you trust handing the ball off to some goofball in the 6th inning? I thought it would be better for you. You could throw 98 again, you could lock down the 7th and 8th innings in close games, and the Yankees would make do without you in the rotation.
But then you gave us last night. You were great. You didn’t allow a hit until the 4th. You threw strikes, but didn’t go for the strikeout at the cost of an out. You had your velocity and you said, “Hit it if you can”. You face planted to grab a blooper in front of the mound. You battled midges. You only walked two.
This is what we all know you are capable of. We know you can give us this more often than not. We know you can throw 95 and above without sacrificing innings. We know you can locate all four of your pitches like that. So please, show us this again. The Rays come to town this Saturday. This is the team that was 8 games better than you last year. They’ve scored the most runs in the majors this season. You thrive on this, I know you do. So show us what you can do. Shut them down. Make Francesa’s job tough; make him re-evaluate his position. Make him think twice about sending you to the bullpen.
I know you can do this. We believe in you.
P.S. If you missed it above, check out the video of Joba’s spectacular catch from TotalProSports.com
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