A decade later, Harlan Chamberlain, the father of former Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, says Game 2 of the 2007 American League Division Series can be summed up pretty much with one word.
“There wasn’t much to be said, other than the midges,” Harlan Chamberlain says. “I felt bad for my son.”
When the Bombers and the 2017 AL Central champion Indians face off in the division series starting Thursday in Cleveland, it will be the fourth time in the last 20 years the two clubs have met in the postseason. Two out of the last three meetings didn’t go so well for the team in pinstripes, including in that infamous 2007 playoff game when rookie phenom reliever Joba Chamberlain was swarmed by insects from neighboring Lake Erie, a development that Harlan Chamberlain says now was “crazy the way it unfolded” on the television screen while he was watching his son’s nightmare bug encounter.
A decade before Chamberlain’s date with the midges, Sandy Alomar Jr. had a different way to bug the Yankees’ playoff hopes, when he drilled a game-tying, solo home run off of Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the ALDS in Cleveland, a hit that was dramatic as much for the way it shifted the momentum in Cleveland’s favor as it was for the pitcher who surrendered it.
Here is a look at the three playoff series between the Yankees and Indians and some of the key moments from those postseason meetings.
The Yankees were the defending World Series champions, after the plucky ’96 team upended the mighty Braves in manager Joe Torre’s debut season in pinstripes. But after trading victories in the Bronx, the Yankees took a 2-1 series lead in Cleveland with a dominant 6-1 Game 3 win. It seemed all but a foregone conclusion that the Bombers would advance to the ALCS that year when Derek Jeter and Co. took a 2-1 lead into the eighth inning of Game 4, and Rivera was on the mound to try to record a six-out save.
Alomar had different plans, and the righty-hitting slugger whacked one of Rivera’s famous cutters the opposite way at then-named Jacobs Field. The solo shot tied the game, and the Indians would eventually prevail. Cleveland then clinched the series one night later at home.
A year after the Alomar dagger, the Yankees got their revenge, although they had to dig out of an early 2-1 hole in the championship series. Two games in particular stand out in the series: Game 2, when Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch protested a call at first base while the play was still live; and Game 4, when Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez pitched seven shutout innings in the 4-0 Yankees win.
On the Knoblauch play, Indians third baseman Travis Fryman laid a perfect bunt down the first-base line in the top of the 12th inning at Yankee Stadium in a tie game. Yankee first baseman Tino Martinez fielded the ball and threw to Knoblauch, but the ball hit Fryman in the back. While Knoblauch protested and pointed to the base, Enrique Wilson, who was pinch-running for Jim Thome, scored all the way from first base, although he nearly fell coming home. Fryman wound up on third after Martinez was charged with an error. The Indians won Games 2 and 3, but El Duque’s stellar Game 4 righted the ship, and the Yankees booted Cleveland in six games before sweeping the Padres in the World Series.
Chien Ming-Wang, who had won 19 games during the regular season for the Yanks, was awful in the division series opener at Jacobs Field, when the Yankees got clobbered 12-3. CC Sabathia, then the Indians’ ace, picked up the win in that Game 1. But Andy Pettitte took the mound for the Bombers in Game 2 in Cleveland and was dominant for 6.1 scoreless innings before turning the ball over to Chamberlain with a 1-0 lead.
“I just remember Joba was having a really tough time. They were all over the place,” says Sabathia now.
The “they” refers to the Lake Erie midges that descended upon Chamberlain and every other player later that game, although the Cleveland players didn’t seem to be bothered by the intruders at all.
Chamberlain recorded two outs in the seventh inning to end the frame after he replaced the lefty Pettitte, but in the eighth, it all unraveled. Grady Sizemore drew a leadoff walk and then moved to second on the first of Chamberlain’s two wild pitches that inning. The midges were in full bloom over the mound by then, and when bug repellent was applied to Chamberlain’s neck and face, that only seemed to make the insect invasion intensify.
“When they were trying to thwart the bugs, they were enticing them with the spray, as it turned out,” Harlan Chamberlain says.
Sizemore went to third on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on another Chamberlain wild pitch with two outs. Game tied. The two teams played into extra innings before the Indians won it in the 11th. The Yankees won Game 3 at home, but Cleveland advanced to the ALCS with a Game 4 victory, a series clinching win that hinged on a wave of midges.
“I guess that’s a home-field advantage for them,” said Jeter after the Game 2 loss. “Just let the bugs out.”