The Night A Massive Swarm Of Bugs Cost Joba Chamberlain And The Yankees A Playoff Game

Joba Chamberlain looks on walking off the mound

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Joba Chamberlain had one of the most historic “Welcome to New York” runs in Yankees baseball history.

The pitcher—who was drafted in 2006 and made his MLB debut a year later in the midst of the Yankees making a run to the postseason—Joba made his impact known as he excelled in his first season of big league ball.

A stretch of dominance in New York makes you a legend in the city for years to come. Much like Jeremy Lin, Joba showed up in 2007, dominated, and then kind of fell off in his own way. It’s happened before and it will happen again.

On August 7th, 2007. Joba got the call up to The Show. He struck out the first batter faced, then went on to pitch two scoreless innings out of the bullpen.

The infamous “Joba Rules” soon became A Thing in New York in order to prevent wear and tear in his inaugural campaign. He was a highly touted prospect that Yankee fans wanted to see, but the pitching restrictions imposed by the team prevented him from being seen on back-to-back nights.

However, that didn’t do much to slow his impressive ascent. In his rookie season, Joba appeared in 19 games and boasted a 0.34 ERA (yes, you read that right) along with 34 strikeouts and a 2-0 record as a reliever in the regular season.

He was so good that the Yankees added him to the playoff roster as the Bronx Bombers were ready to compete for another World Series, and while fans of the team will remember him for his many contributions to that cause, most people associate with him with what transpired in Cleveland on the night October 5, 2007.

The swarm of bugs that cost Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees a game in the ALDS

Joba Chamberlain at the mound visit during the bugs game

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It’s Game 2 of the ALDS. It’s the bottom of the 7th inning, and Andy Pettite just handed a 1-0 lead over to Chamberlain, who successfully prevents the runners he inherited from scoring and just needs another solid showing in the 8th inning to hand the game off to the legendary Mariano Rivera for an almost assured victory.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.

When Joba returned to the mound for the bottom of the 8th inning, he wasn’t alone: the entire field was swarming with tiny creatures known as “midges,” which could be seen swirling around Chamberlian, Derek Jeter, and the rest of the players on the diamond.

The unusually warm weather (it was 81°F in Cleveland in October) combined with the wind coming off of Lake Erie had created the perfect atmosphere for the midges (which are small, mosquito-like bugs that are endemic to the Great Lakes) to thrive, and the glaring lights above Progressive Field essentially acted as a giant “WELCOME” sign for the flies that were unable to resist their invitation.

Now, it wasn’t considered enough of a problem to stop the game entirely, as the umpires determined Joba had to pitch through these unusual circumstances, which created one of the most unusual yet memorable moments in baseball history.

Players from both sides (including the umps) brought out bug spray while doing everything they could to see clearly and get the bugs off of their bodies (and keep them away), and after a brief delay, the game officially resumed.

It’s worth noting some players (including Roger Clemens) argued a “bug delay” should have been called, but the boys in blue ruled the midges were an annoyance as opposed to a potentially dangerous distraction—and it was very, very obvious Chamberlian was very, very annoyed by them.

From the very first pitch, you could see the bugs were getting into (and onto) his head and affecting his performance. When Joba would go to swipe his neck to rid of sweat, he pulled away a hand filled with bugs. It was equal parts gross, irritating, and frustrating, but Chamberlain had to keep pitching.

After a stellar regular season with only six walks in 24 innings, Joba lost his command. He walked a batter and would go on to throw a couple of wild pitches that would help Cleveland get on the board, and when everything was said and done, he was knocked out of a contest the Yankees ultimately lost by a score of 2-1 (New York would go on to lose the ALDS in four games).

It was a truly wild ride and one of the most memorable games I witnessed during my years as an impressionable young Yankees fan. I was a huge Joba Chamberlain fan back in the day, and even though the Yankees lose,  it was tough to blame him here.

Mother Nature has reared her ugly head again and again at the MLB’s expense, but none of the incidents I’ve seen unfold had the kind of impact the midges did in Cleveland; it was almost like they were part of a carefully orchestrated plot to throw Chamberlain and the Yankees off their game (and if that was indeed the case, it certainly worked).

It was also kind of all downhill from there for Joba, who was never really able to recapture the magic in the wake of The Midge Incident that arguably defined a nonetheless lengthy career that officially ended when he retired in 2017.