September 21, 2014

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Bugs get under Joba’s, Yankees’ skin

CLEVELAND — Who let the bugs out? Buzz … buzz, buzz.
The lasting image from Game 2 at Jacobs Field was the closeup of Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain’s neck caked with dead midges, and the blizzard-like swarm of insects that surrounded him as he flailed away helplessly atop the pitcher’s mound.
“He was having trouble seeing out there,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said after his team lost 2-1 and dropped to 0-2 in the American League Division Series. “It was just like blankets of stuff out there. I really don’t know what to tell you because I’ve never seen anything like that before, especially all of a sudden coming on the scene like that.”
The bugs made their cameo during the middle of the eighth inning. Before Chamberlain threw a pitch, home plate umpire Laz Diaz walked toward the mound and brought the pitcher a bottle of insect spray.
“Yeah, it was annoying out there,” Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner said. “Guys were using bug repellent and trying to put it on their helmet, on their back, on their chest and stuff to kind of try and keep them away.”
The midges — an insect related to mosquitoes — began bombing the New York reliever, and play was stopped again in the eighth inning so a trainer could apply more repellent.
“I’ve seen bugs and mosquitoes since I started umpiring,” crew chief Bruce Froemming said. “There was just about a 10-minute period there where everybody was lathering up. It might not have been a perfect scenario.
“But, no, I never considered (stopping the game).”
The 10 minutes is about all the Indians needed to hand Chamberlain his second earned run of the season. They did it without a hit, and the run tied the game.
Chamberlain went 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA in 19 games during the regular season. He gave up just 12 hits, six walks and stuck out 34 in 24 innings.
He began the eighth by walking Grady Sizemore, then threw a wild pitch that allowed the Indians center fielder to advance to second base, before Asdrubal Cabrera laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Sizemore to third.
Sizemore scored on Chamberlain’s second wild pitch — he had just one during the regular season — then hit Victor Martinez and walked Ryan Garko before finally getting out of the inning by striking out Jhonny Peralta.
“I’ll never make an excuse, but they were bad out there,” Chamberlain said of the bugs. “They bugged me, but you have to deal with it. I still have to do a better job executing pitches.
“I let my guys down tonight, and that’s the bottom line.”
The bugs remained for the rest of the game, but they were never as thick as they were during Chamberlain’s time on the mound.
“They were obviously affecting him,” said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings before Chamberlain entered the game. “Not only was there the tightness of the game and the situation that he was in, but then he had to deal with all that on top of it.”
The Indians fans aren’t complaining, despite the fact many of them had to use the towels the team gave away at the gates to shoo away the annoying pests. The “home field” advantage may have contributed to the Indians scoring in the eighth, which allowed them to win the game in the 11th with a walk-off Hafner hit.
The picture of players and umpires swinging non-stop at the bugs was all anyone could talk about after the game.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “But it was like that for both teams.”
It’s a memory that will last for just about anyone who was there. Froemming can still recall his last bug encounter.
“The only other experience that comes close to it would be in Cincinnati, years ago,” he said. “We had a bee problem by the dugout. They had to get a beekeeper to move this swarm of bees, and they did it.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.