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The ‘Bug Game’: Still a Conversation Piece Six Years Later

On October 5, 2007, New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain was standing on the mound at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. The stakes were high: it was game two of the American League Division Series playoffs.

It was late in the game and Yankees were clinging precariously to a one-run lead. As Chamberlain stood on the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning, he was probably expecting a tough battle with the Cleveland Indians batters.

What he almost certainly was not expecting was to be thrown off his game by a swarm of bugs.

Joba takes the mound

The Yankees star rookie, 22 at the time, entered the game at a critical moment. It is difficult enough for a rookie to handle postseason pressure. On top of that, Chamberlain was pitching on the road in front of a hostile crowd.

That crowd was not nearly as distracting as the wall of bugs that began mercilessly buzzing the rookie pitcher. Situated near Lake Erie. Jacobs Field was no stranger to the insects of late summer and early fall. When baseball players are confronted with aggressive bugs, they typically just keep their mouth closed and swat away

These bugs were different. Despite Chamberlain’s best efforts at pest control, he was bombarded by a cloud of buzzing insects. These were not the type of insects you could casually swat between pitches. There were too many and they were moving too fast.

Joba fights the bugs

Chamberlain was clearly uncomfortable on the mound. He squinted and flinched and tried fruitlessly to swat the insects away. He summoned help from the dugout, twice being sprayed with insect repellent to help escape the swarm. Unfortunately, the insect repellent had no effect. The bugs, however, were having a major effect.

Rattled by the rush of bugs, and perhaps the pressure of the big stage, Chamberlain uncorked two wild pitches and hit a batter in the eighth inning, allowing the tying run to score without surrendering a hit. Manager Joe Torre would remove him from the game, sparing him further abuse from the swarming gnats and midges.

Chamberlain’s exit did not lead to the bugs’ departure. They continued to circle and swarm. However, the Indians players did not seem as rattled, later saying they were used to playing in a buggy environment from time to time.

The game would eventually go eleven innings. The Yankees would lose 2-1 on a bases-loaded single en route to losing the series three games to one.

A game for the ages

Given the early exit, 2007 was not a particularly successful postseason for a franchise as storied as the Yankees. It did provide one of the most memorable postseason games in baseball’s long history.

Six years later, if you ask most fans about “the bug game”, they can still tell you all about Joba Chamberlain and his insect repellent. It’s a game destined to go down in the annals of baseball as one of the most bizarre yet entertaining postseason games ever played.

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