Before the August 1, 2016 Trade Deadline, the Chicago Cubs elected not to part with Kyle Schwarber as part of a package for then-Yankees reliever Andrew Miller.
Instead, they gave up their top prospect, Gleyber Torres (and a lot more), for then-Yankees closer, Aroldis Chapman. The Indians went with Miller.
From a baseball only perspective, Chapman is about as good as Miller – which is to say, they are two of the very, very best relievers in all of baseball. Chapman, of course, had fewer years of remaining control (thus the smaller price tag), but in terms of performance, there’s not much you could have expected out of Miller that you couldn’t out of Chapman.
That is, until, we saw the way the Indians and manager Terry Francona have used Miller this postseason. All nine of Miller’s postseason appearances this October have been multi-inning affairs. The power of Miller’s flexibility (he was the ALCS MVP) has turned into the ultimate weapon for Francona, who has used him to perfection. The Cubs, unfortunately, have been forced to watch and play against the very guy they almost acquired in the biggest seven-game series you can imagine.
But last night, something different happened. Aroldis Chapman took the ball in the seventh inning of a one-run ball game, and completed a dominant 2.2-inning save. He became the Cubs’ version of Andrew Miller for a night, and he did it fantastically.
When the dust had settled and the Cubs’ travel agent booked 25+ more tickets to Cleveland, Aroldis Chapman pitched 2.2 innings and allowed just two baserunners total (an infield single and a HBP). In addition, he struck out four batters and walked nobody. It was exactly the type of dominant performance you hope for out of a rental reliever, and Chapman almost single-handedly preserved the Cubs chances of winning this year’s World Series back in Cleveland.
You can re-live his relief appearance above, but I also suggest checking out Jeff Sullivan’s piece, Joe Maddon Terry Francona’d Aroldis Chapman, at FanGraphs for a deeper dive and a look at five of the best pitches of Chapman’s outing – really excellent read.
Despite the increased use of multi-inning relievers across baseball this October (and even on the Cubs for the past two years), Chapman has never really been one of those guys. Okay, he has done it twice this postseason (1.2 IP in Game 6 of the NLCS and 1.1 IP in Game 2 of the World Series), but he’s a long way from the likes of Andrew Miller and the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen. Which is why Joe Maddon approached Chapman about it before the game, asking if he would be ready to go in the 7th.
“Obviously, I told him, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready to go,'” Chapman said to reporters after the game. “And whatever he needs me to do or how long he needs me to pitch for, I’m ready for it.” Chapman was ready for it, throwing 42 pitches to complete the long save – six more than he has in any one outing all season long.
The scariest moment may have come with two outs in the eighth, a man on third, and the Indians’ most dangerous postseason hitter, Francisco Lindor, at the plate. But catcher Willson Contreras, Chapman, and the Cubs decided to attack him cautiously – starting him with three straight sliders – and it paid off.
The next pitch was a 101 MPH fastball at the bottom of the zone – one of Sullivan’s favorites from last night – which froze Lindor and ended the inning. In fact, Lindor was quoted saying he doesn’t think he was capable of hitting any of the pitches Chapman threw him.
Because of the length of his relief appearance, Chapman was forced to pick up a bat and stand in the box, something for which he was quite visibly excited.
Ken Rosenthal explains it best: “Aroldis Chapman went running through the Cubs’ dugout, yelling, ‘Four! Four! Four!’ Jason Heyward asked Javier Baez, ‘What’s he saying?’ Upon hearing Baez’s explanation, Heyward burst out laughing. ‘He’s hitting fourth,’ Baez said, referring to Chapman’s place in the batting order in the eighth inning.”
Chapman stepped up to the plate for just the third time in his career (he was 0-2, he’s now 0-3), before striking out on five pitches against the Indians’ closer Cody Allen. But he, and the rest of the Cubs, were loving every minute of it. In fact, Chapman apparently hit the batting cages in the fifth inning too, just in case. Montero suggested he just “save it,” but admits that Chapman’s speed might’ve allowed him to beat out a chopper. The Cubs will never not have fun.
Unfortunately, Chapman didn’t put the ball in play, so it’ll all have to remain up to the imagination, but he looked good and was excited about getting a shot. Now that the Cubs are heading back to the American League, however, Chapman won’t likely get any more at-bats. But hey, maybe he’ll throw a couple more scoreless multi-inning appearances, if Maddon promises him some more cuts during batting practice. I think it’s worth it.