The Cubs’ big eighth inning turned Wednesday night’s victory into an 8-1 rout, but that didn’t seem to diminish the drama surrounding the debut of controversial closer Aroldis Chapman as he entered to pitch the ninth inning against the White Sox at Wrigley Field.
A smattering of boos could be heard amid a much louder chorus of cheers. And the boos turned to oohs (and aahs) when his first pitch registered a 101 reading on the scoreboard radar display.
Second pitch: 101. Third pitch: 102.
By the time pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia struck out looking at a 103 mph fastball to end the game, Cubs history had come full circle, from Three Finger Brown to Three Digit Chapman – with the same World Series expectations attached.
“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Of course, you’re looking to get the win, but it’s different, man. He’s a different kind of pitcher. You don’t see that [but] every 100 years or so.
“I don’t have any comps on that one. I don’t think anybody does.”
Chapman got off to a rocky start with Chicago media Tuesday over a series of non-answers to questions about his domestic-violence suspension this year, and on Wednesday initially refused to talk with media after the game, visibly upset.
Eventually, with the help of some bridge building by catcher Miguel Montero, Chapman took a few questions.
“The adrenaline was pretty good even though it wasn’t a save situation,” Chapman said, with Montero translating from Spanish. “It was fun to hear the crowd cheering for me.”
Chapman, pitching for the first time since Saturday, was in line for the save until the Cubs scored five in the eighth, capped by 22-year-old Addison Russell’s first career grand slam, the Cubs’ third homer of the game (also Kris Bryant and Javy Baez).
Russell is the youngest Cub to hit a grand slam since 1962 (Nelson Mathews, 20).
“It was almost good that it wasn’t a save situation,” Maddon said, “just to allow him to get his feet on the ground. There were a lot of positives out of that moment right there.
“I give the guy some credit for going out there in somewhat of a difficult situation based on the last couple days,” Maddon added. “I don’t even know how much rest he’s gotten.”
Chapman, who said the crowd helped lift his adrenaline, was asked a suck-up question at the end of the postgame session about whether he felt taken advantage of by the media Tuesday.
“It’s over with,” he said. “I’ve just got to move on with it. It happened. I don’t want to go further that that.”
As for the promise of triple-digit ninth innings the rest of the season?
“It was very cool,” Maddon said. “I’ve seen it on the wrong side. It’s nice to have it on your side.”
For almost six innings it was the White Sox debut of Anthony Ranaudo that provided much of the drama.
All Cubs Maddon knew about Ranaudo before the game was what the manager saw on some video from a minor-league game.
“I saw some pitches up,” Maddon said.
A few hours later, so did Bryant and Baez.
Bryant’s solo homer with one out in the sixth not only tied the game, but also broke up Ranaudo’s no-hit bit.
Until then, the right-hander also accounted for the game’s only run, with a homer off Jason Hammel leading off the fifth. It was the first career hit for Ranaudo, 26, who was acquired from the Rangers for Matt Ball in May.
Hammel (10-5) pitched seven strong innings to win his third straight start out of the All-Star break, tying his career high in wins for a season.
He struck out seven, walked two and pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fourth by getting former Cub Dioner Navarro to fly to center and striking out Monday night’s hero Tyler Saladino.
“He was outstanding,” Maddon said.
Hammel has a 2.00 ERA in his three starts since taking doctor’s advice at the All-Star break to start eating more potato chips to solve a cramping problem he had experienced in two starts during the first half.
“It makes sense. Potatoes are a good source of potassium, and carbs, and salt,” said Hammel, who received a four-box supply of Utz potato chips last week in the clubhouse. “It’s obviously not the breakfast – or any type of meal – of champions. But there are quirky things I guess for everybody.”