aroldis chapman

Aroldis Chapman Did Something He's Never Done Before, Right When the Cubs Needed It

Chapman earned an eight-out save last night and was still throwing gas after 40 pitches.

by Robert O'Connell
Oct 31 2016, 3:33pm

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Sunday night's fifth game of the World Series was, essentially, two games. There was the early-to-mid-inning back-and-forth, with Cleveland runs in the second and sixth outweighed by three Chicago runs in the third, and then there was the seventh inning on, when Chicago manager Joe Maddon turned to his team's highest-profile midseason acquisition, Aroldis Chapman, to work the final two-and-two-thirds frames.

Owing to an off-season domestic violence accusation and a subsequent suspension to start the year, Chapman is a decidedly queasy figure—a Cubs Series-clinching celebration will start on a sour note, if he throws the final strike—but this postseason the flamethrowing left-hander has also been uncertain on the mound. He blew a save to the San Francisco Giants back in the division series and surrendered a couple runs in a shaky inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. Set opposite Cleveland's flexible and lights-out Andrew Miller, Chapman has seemed like an older and clunkier model of the bullpen ace; he throws hard, sure, but he can be gotten to.

Down three games to one and facing elimination, Maddon could only hope Chapman would hold up, and he did, getting his eight outs—the first eight-out save of his career—over ten batters. A game that had been played at a reasonable clip to that point slowed, due to mound visits and dramatic between-pitch pauses, but every time Chapman let go of a pitch the overwhelming sensation was of speed. Inheriting a baserunner, he got out of the seventh by blowing away Jose Ramirez with a high fastball and coaxing a Roberto Perez dribbler with a low one, and the rest of the way it was a couple little sliders, for effect, and a lot of gas. The fastball that got Jason Kipnis to pop out for the second out in the eighth went 100 miles per hour; the one that dotted the corner against Francisco Lindor hit 102. The last out of the night, another Ramirez K, came via 101 on the outside edge, after Chapman had already thrown 41 pitches, gotten up three times, and sat down twice.

In this, the Postseason of New-Fangled Reliever Usage™, it made for a distinct entry. Where Miller has a breezy element to his approach that makes quick innings possible and long outings look less strenuous, Chapman has an accelerator in his left shoulder, and a foot pressing it constantly to the floor. He strides far, his chest heaves out, and his arm follows. In slow-motion, it looks frankly impossible: that a limb could drag so far behind its torso without detaching, that it could whip forward as his does without, like, splintering or catching fire. Chapman's throwing his fastball even once is a severe physical anomaly; his doing so some three dozen times over an hour was a masterpiece of endurance.

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Going forward, Chapman remains less of a certainty than his Cleveland counterparts, all the more since he'll be coming off of an unprecedented workload. He is still a grim but necessary reminder, too, that good sports stories do not always involve good people. But during Game 5, he threw very hard for a very long time, when that's just what the Cubs needed.