'Bug Game' forever part of Tribe-Yanks lore

September 29th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- Should it happen again -- should some uninvited guests happen to descend upon Progressive Field when the Indians and Yankees reunite in the American League Wild Card Series that starts tonight -- Joba Chamberlain has some friendly advice for the players 13 years after the "Bug Game."

"Vinegar or dryer sheets," Chamberlain, the former Indians and Yankees pitcher, told MLB.com in 2017. "That's how you get rid of them."

On Oct. 5, 2007, Chamberlain famously came undone against the Tribe in the "Bug Game." It's a night that still stands as October absurdity at its finest, and it is impossible to see these two teams paired in the postseason without reflecting on that unusual evening.

It was the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS, and the then-rookie Chamberlain was on the mound trying to protect New York's 1-0 lead and even the best-of-five set. But a swarm of midges had descended upon the ballpark, then known as Jacobs Field. Chamberlain, with no "Sultan of Swat" to protect him, got pretty bugged out. He walked Grady Sizemore, threw a wild pitch and eventually -- after a mid-inning pause as the Yankees' team trainer sprayed Chamberlain with insect repellent -- threw another wild pitch to let the tying run home.

The Indians went on to win, 2-1, on Travis Hafner's walk-off single in the 11th inning, en route to a four-game win in the series.

Gnat's all, folks.

"Just when you think you've seen it all," Derek Jeter said at the time. "That's home-field advantage."

It was an advantage attributable to unseasonable fall warmth in Northeast Ohio. The bugs live in Lake Erie as larvae and pupae, and they fly off in search of a mate once mature. Usually, they come in a few summer bursts, so it is not unusual to see them make an appearance at an Indians game.

On the night of the Bug Game, the combination of an 81-degree first-pitch temperature and the bright lights of the ballpark gave the midges a rare case of playoff fever. (For the record, forecasts call for a first-pitch temperature around 62 degrees for Game 1 of this Wild Card Series.)

For Chamberlain, it was a lesson learned that insect repellent is actually attractive to the midges, who were drawn to him all the more after his in-game spray shower.

"That would have been nice to know at the time," he said with a laugh.

Then-manager Joe Torre has since referred to the Bug Game as one of his great regrets.

"I second-guessed myself for not pulling the team off the field," he told The New York Post in 2017. "Joba was on the mound and he looked right at me, and I knew he couldn't see. We sent Gino [Gene Monahan, trainer] to the mound, and little did we know that the stuff Gino was spraying on Joba's face was like chateaubriand for those bugs."

Chamberlain's reaction to the midges stood in stark contrast to that of Indians starter Fausto Carmona. Though his true name was, years later, revealed to be Roberto Hernandez,

"Carmona" was the real deal that night. He didn't let the bugs deter him from pitching nine brilliant innings in which he allowed just one run on three hits.

Go to the Indians' Player Development Complex in Goodyear, Ariz., and there, on the Minor League side, you'll find a large black-and-white photo of Carmona calmly peering in for the sign with bugs covering his face. It's a lesson in focus.

"It's something that we were all extremely, extremely proud of," said Indians pitching Carl Willis, who was in the same role with the club back in 2007. "It showed such mental toughness. I can't put into words how difficult that was, and you look at the effect it had on the opposition. It was a tough situation to be in when you're having to focus on getting the best of the best Major League hitters out."

So Carmona/Hernandez still has a spot in Indians lore. Chamberlain, meanwhile, has learned to laugh off his ugly outing. He actually made his final big league appearances with the Tribe in 2016, and he learned that one downtown hotel actually warns its guests about the midges with a notice that references their impact on Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS.

"Funny story, too," Chamberlain added. "They had the MLB auction at the end of the year, and they sold that can of bug spray. I actually met the kid that bought it in Spring Training the next year."

It's a nice keepsake. Just don't use it to try to fend off the midges.