Aroldis Chapman was impressive: but not in the way I expected

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Aroldis Chapman and the Louisville Bats rolled into beautiful downtown Columbus, Ohio last night. I couldn’t miss that so I called my friend Mark — a big Reds fan — and headed on down to the park to catch the game. We got through the gate and, being consummate professionals, used every trick in the book to move up from our assigned seats to a choice location right behind home plate. 

After his last outing in which he was clocked at 103 m.p.h. I fully expected to be dazzled by Chapman’s fastball.  I was in for a bit of a surprise.

Not that he disappointed in the early going. Chapman had some serious heat in the first couple of innings, hitting 99 and 98 a few times in the first and uncorking one pitch at 100 m.p.h. in the second. It was a crazy atmosphere in the park too, with almost no one actually watching the ball being caught after it crossed the plate — all eyes were on the radar readouts down the first and third base lines.  When he hit 100 the crowd let out a collective “whoa!”

But then a funny thing happened: Chapman slowed down.  Indeed, for the rest of the game he was consistently at 93-94 m.p.h., only rarely ticking it up any higher.  When his velocity first declined Mark and I wondered if something was wrong with him. But then it became apparent: Chapman wasn’t throwing. He was pitching.

Starting in the third inning Chapman went to work with his offspeed stuff.  And it worked.  Clippers’ batters were obviously amped for the gas, and I can’t recall seeing guys so far out in front of pitches as these guys were.  Chapman occasionally got too enamored with his changeup — at one point he threw a few too many in a row which, thankfully for him, only led to loud outs — but overall he was masterful.

When it was all said and done Chapman had thrown seven innings, allowing two runs and four hits. He walked three and struck out five on 88 pitches.  The bullpen blew the game for him so he didn’t get the win, but it was a strong performance.

The biggest question I had leaving the park was how much of last night’s outing was a function of Chapman making a conscious effort to mix it up and to be efficient and how much of it was a function of him just not having his best gas?  That’s not my problem, I suppose. For my part I’ll just note that it was nice to see Chapman — who some Reds fans are clamoring to come up and help plug holes in the bullpen — come out and give a mature and complete performance.

A few more of those and he’ll be doing it in Cincinnati.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.