In the final postseason game he pitched last October, Aroldis Chapman cried. The Chicago Cubs handed him the ball in Game 7 of the World Series, and after a series of overuse by Manager Joe Maddon, Chapman crumbled. He gave up a game-tying home run that he thought had blown the game and the World Series for a franchise seeking its first title since 1908. After the ninth, Chapman wept.
A year later, Chapman views the experience thusly: “It helps me relax,” he said late Sunday night.
It remains to be seen how large an opportunity Chapman will have to redeem his Game 7 shakiness this postseason. The Yankees still trail in the American League Division Series, two games to one, after a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 3. But they remain alive, in no small part, because Chapman proved again he is different from every other pitcher.
When the Yankees and Indians gather Monday night for Game 4 — Trevor Bauer, on three days rest, against Luis Severino, coming off a wild card game implosion — the echoes of Chapman’s fastballs against Gary Sanchez’s mitt may still be ringing.
Manager Joe Girardi summoned Chapman for a five-out save. He struck out four batters. In the ninth, he pitched around consecutive one-out singles and ended it with an epic encounter with Carlos Santana, inducing a flyout to center on the second 3-2 pitch he threw. The nature of the performance set him apart. Chapman threw 30 fastballs in 34 pitches, and all of them zipped at least 100 miles per hour. He topped out at 104, which Jose Ramirez somehow fouled back. His final pitch hummed at 102.
“We’re like fans watching him pitch,” reliever Chad Green said. “It’s, like, almost unfair.”
Most teammates shrugged off Chapman’s performance, accustomed to the superhuman. “We’re used to seeing that,” center fielder Aaron Hicks said. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said the performance did not stand apart from Chapman’s previous six weeks. Chapman, though, insisted the stakes made him reach for another level.
“In an elimination game, you can’t hold back,” Chapman said through a translator. “Everything you have, you have to go out there and give it all.”
How much does he have left for Game 4? Chapman said he’ll be available tomorrow. Girardi thinks Chapman could give him an inning. Most pitchers, after exerting their arms to the extent Chapman did, would need a day of rest.
“He’s a different animal,” Rothschild said. “We’ll see how he is when he comes in.”
Before his dominant and dazzling performance, Chapman found himself in the middle of a controversy. Yankees fans vilified Girardi for a series of misadventures as the Yankees blew an 8-3 lead in Game 2 in Cleveland. The crowd booed Girardi Sunday night during introductions, jeering a manager who has won a World Series in pinstripes as both a player and a manager.
Chapman didn’t help. On Friday night, he liked a comment on his Instagram feed calling Girardi an imbecile. When asked about it in English on Sunday night, Chapman laughed at the word “Instagram” and did not await a translation before answering in Spanish.
“I was checking my social media, and by accident I hit the like button on one of those comments,” Chapman sad. “I spoke to Joe yesterday, and I told him it was an accident.”
Girardi could surely forgive Chapman after Game 3. Chapman fired 34 pitches with the Yankees’ season on the line, and he staved off an opponent who had proven impossible to kill. The odds are still against Chapman making it back to the World Series. Chances are, he will continue to perform feats routine for him, and inhuman for anybody else.
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