CLEVELAND – Until Game 5 on Sunday and Game 6 on Tuesday, it was the Indians’ Andrew Miller who was the feared reaper of these bullpens in this World Series.
But then the other guy the Yankees traded at the deadline in July – the Cubs’ second-choice reliever – showed he could do something that many felt he, well …
“Couldn’t,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, finishing the thought on Aroldis Chapman. “I think the perception has to have changed with him.”
Sixty-two pitches and four innings of critical work over two World Series victories has put Chapman on the brink of the kind of big-stage notoriety that can make – or change – reputations and transform careers.
And in Chapman’s case, potentially make him even more money as a free agent this winter.
“He’s been an extremely large reason why we’re in this moment right now,” said Maddon, who considered Chapman available again for Wednesday’s Game 7 for at least 30 or 40 pitches. “Industry-wide, I would have to believe his stock has risen dramatically for what he’s done and how he’s done it. He’s a total team guy right now, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be communicative with these guys.”
That was part of the issue with Chapman when the left-hander with the triple-digit fastball struggled in August when Maddon pushed him into eighth-inning save situations.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations over the last two months,” Maddon said. “In the beginning, I tried to do it [multi-inning saves], and then we talked, and he preferred not, so we got away form it – with the understanding that when we got to this point it would change.
“Consistent dialogue has permitted this to happen.”
After Tuesday’s game, Chapman said he was ready to pitch whenever Maddon wanted in Game 7, for as long as needed.
He already had pitched four times in the first six games for a total of 6 1/3 innings and 102 pitches.
But Maddon dismissed the scrutiny over Tuesday’s 20-pitch, four-out appearance that came just two days after a 42-pitch, career-high eight-out appearance.
“I’m really amazed that there’s any kind of controversy,” he said. “Had we given up some runs right there [when Chapman entered in the seventh], he’s going to have to throw 20 more stressful pitches in the latter part of the game. The 20 pitches could have occurred in the ninth inning, stressfully, or occurred when they occurred less stressfully. Knowing him and having the conversation prior to the game and how he felt, I felt very comfortable with it.”
Chapman turned his ankle slightly covering first in the seventh but pitched into the ninth and said afterward he was fine.
Maddon said the only mistake he made was not being better prepared to have Pedro Strop ready to start the ninth after Anthony Rizzo hit a two-out homer to extend the lead to seven runs. Chapman had to pitch to the first batter (a walk) before Strop was ready.
Either way, the Cubs don’t have to worry about any long-term issues with Chapman, who’s expected to command perhaps $15 million a year as a free agent on a long-term deal this winter.
The Cubs’ front office historically has not believed in big contracts for closers and is not expected to make an exception in this case, though Maddon said he likes the idea of Chapman returning.
“I don’t know what our financial structure is or whatever,” Maddon said. “But I know that Chappy’s made a great impression on all of us.”