But they are here now, and when they face the Indians on Thursday night in Game 1 of another first-round division series, it will be 10 years to the day of that fateful midge attack.
So could it happen again? Maybe this time it would happen with David Robertson or Chad Green or Aroldis Chapman on the mound for the Yankees, trying to protect a one-run lead, just as Chamberlain was trying to do 10 years ago.
“It’s not totally predictable, but it’s usually tied to early changes in the climate,” said Jessica L. Fox, an associate professor of biology at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland who has a degree in entomology from Cornell.
“We have more than 40 species of midges around here, and you don’t know exactly when it is going to occur,” she said of a possible bug swarm. But, she noted, it “generally happens once in the spring and once in the fall, around this time.”
According to Fox, when the midges appear en masse they are actually engaging in a mating display. The males swarm around an object — a light pole, a puddle of water, or a right-handed relief pitcher — waiting for the females to arrive. For humans, they are essentially harmless — except in critical late-inning situations.
“It happened last year,” said Francisco Lindor, Cleveland’s dynamic shortstop, in recalling a more recent midge invasion at the stadium. “Joba was here. He was telling us all about it.”
Chamberlain was in Cleveland in 2016 as a member of the Indians, in what appears to have been the last stop in his major league career. He pitched in 20 games for the Indians, and did not appear in the postseason, but he clearly was around long enough to relive all the lunacy of 2007 for his teammates.
On that fateful night, Chamberlain was on the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning, trying to protect a 1-0 lead after a typically terrific postseason start by Andy Pettitte. At that point in an electrifying rookie season, Chamberlain had been almost unhittable, allowing only one earned run in 24 regular-season appearances.
He had not pitched in Game 1 in Cleveland, which was a lopsided win for the Indians. But now, in Game 2, he was on the mound, on a warm, sticky night — and just like that, the midges were there, too. They were everywhere, really, possibly drawn to the stadium by its bright lights.
The game was briefly halted while the Yankees’ trainer, Gene Monahan, doused Chamberlain with bug spray. In the infield, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez waved their caps above their heads to try to drive some of the midges away. It didn’t do much good.
Joe Torre, the Yankees’ manager at the time, later said he regretted not asking the umpires for a longer pause in the game. Instead, Chamberlain had to pitch with the bugs continuing to alight on his mouth, neck, ears and eyebrows. Before throwing a pitch, he would blow air out of his mouth to shoo them away. That didn’t work, either.
The results were predictable. Chamberlain issued a leadoff walk and threw two wild pitches — one of which allowed the tying run to score. Given the unusual circumstances, it was remarkable he surrendered only one run.
With the score tied, 1-1, in the ninth inning, the Yankees’ Bobby Abreu reached on a two-out single and stole second base, bringing Rodriguez at the plate. The Indians’ starting pitcher was Roberto Hernandez, but at the time he was known as Fausto Carmona, an alias he used before it was discovered he had assumed a false name to get a visa and lower his age by three years.
But that is another story.
With the midges still buzzing around the players, Hernandez struck out Rodriguez to end the threat. For whatever reason, the bugs did not affect him as much as they did Chamberlain.
Two innings later, the Indians won the game; two games later, the Indians won the series. Not long after, Torre was gone as manager of the Yankees.
The midges, however, are not going anywhere. Fox said they are hardly unique to the Cleveland area and can be found across the globe, including Antarctica, where they don’t have wings because high winds would make flight impossible. (Too bad for the Yankees that they didn’t play Game 2 there 10 years ago.)
She also said the bugs can exist for years in larvae form in water and mud until they transform into swarms of flying creatures on missions to mate.
Along Lake Erie, they tend to begin swarming when the lake temperature warms to 60 degrees in the spring, and cools to 60 degrees in the autumn. Fox said the lake is currently at 68 degrees, which could prevent any onslaught this year. But she also noted that there was a large algae bloom in the western part of the lake that could have unpredictable consequences.
While Chamberlain and the Yankees surely have no love for the midges and all the help they gave the Indians a decade ago, Fox marveled at the adaptability of all insects, and said she would never think of squashing a midge.
“I think they are amazing,” she said. “If you are looking for some of the best evolutionary strategies for how to live on this planet, bugs have them. They are the most successful group of organisms on the planet. You can’t even argue with that.”
Certainly, they are more adaptable than the Yankees were on that night 10 years ago.