Last night, the Cubs began the bottom of the 8th inning, up just two runs against the White Sox. Having already lost the first two games of the series, the late inning nail-biter felt like something of a must-win for the North Siders.
But the Cubs feared not. After all, they needed just three more outs, and just so happened to have recently acquired one of the best three-out getters in all of baseball, Aroldis Chapman.
Of course, a Ben Zobrist double here and an Addison Russell grand slam there put the game out of reach at 8-1, but the Cubs called upon their new fireballing closer in the ninth nonetheless.
And thus, last night, Aroldis Chapman made his Chicago Cubs debut, going 1, 2, 3 in the ninth with two strikeouts, including his first against Jose Abreu (which actually came off his slider, not his fastball). It was a good performance overall – one that had our eyes glued to the radar gun – and you can watch it here if you missed it.
Before we get into some of Chapman’s (and his teammates’) comments from after the game, let’s take a look at his appearance out of the pen more closely. Chapman faced just three batters in his frame of work: Abreu struck out swinging, Todd Frazier grounded out to first base, and Avisail Garcia struck out looking. It took him 15 pitches (10 strikes) to finish the frame, 13 of which were fastballs (2 were sliders). The average velocity of his fastball was 101.8 MPH, though he touched up to 103.5 MPH at the top end. Chapman got three swings and misses, and never looked like he wasn’t in complete control of the game.
And even though the score was 8-1, the crowd at Wrigley Field was on its feet:
This is the most intense 8-1 game I've ever seen.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) July 28, 2016
Yesterday’s starter, Jason Hammel, however, was not impressed (Cubs.com): “I thought we were getting a guy who threw 105 [mph]. He only hit 103.” Obviously joking, Hammel immediately added, “It’s a sight to see. “It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and that command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too. He’s a nice addition.” Indeed, the Abreu at-bat, in particular, underscores nicely just how dominant Chapman can be. After reeling off three straight 100+ MPH fastballs to Abreu, Chapman comes back with a 91 MPH slider. That’s devastating, and maybe un-hittable in the moment.
Miguel Montero was a big part of Chapman’s night, as well. Montero caught Chapman in the 2014 All-Star Game, so the two know each other, and he was the one to greet Chapman on the mound when he first came out for the ninth. According to Montero, the two players didn’t even discuss signs, “I know what he’s got,” Montero said, per Cubs.com, before asking if the crowd at Wrigley was a bit louder than where he’s pitched before. They both laughed. But Montero’s help and leadership didn’t end on the field.
After the game, according to reports, Chapman was a bit reluctant to meet with the media, having just faced some lost-in-translation issues the day before, but Montero urged the Cubs new closer to go greet them and went along with him to act as his interpreter. Chapman discussed the excitement/adrenaline of pitching at Wrigley Field and the happiness he felt when the crowd was cheering him on.
His new manager, Joe Maddon, was equally impressed, calling Chapman “unusual,” and likening him to Randy Johnson pitching out of the bullpen. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher,” Maddon said, per the Tribune. “You’ll see it every 100 years or so. He’s that good.” But Maddon doesn’t just gush over his fastball, instead heralding his slider as another plus pitch. Completing the picture, Maddon was thrilled to see the composure Chapman displayed on the mound and his repeatable, consistent delivery.
Image courtesy @MBDChicago