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.

Brewers hold off the Dodgers to force Game 7 of the NLCS

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Down 3-2 in the NLCS, the Brewers faced a must-win situation during Game 6 on Friday. Any residual uncertainty they might have felt about their chances of extending the series was all but resolved in the first inning, however, when Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, and Erik Kratz combined for a four-run spread to take an early lead. Powered by those early-game RBI, as well as masterful performances from Wade Miley, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, the club surged to a 7-2 win to pull even with the Dodgers and force a Game 7 tiebreaker.

Left-hander Wade Miley trounced the Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball. He was bested by David Freese in the very first at-bat of the night, which culminated with a 402-footer to right field to put Los Angeles on the board, 1-0. After a few scoreless innings from the Dodgers, Freese returned to torment Miley in the top of the fifth, this time with an RBI double that narrowed the Brewers’ advantage from four runs to three.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for opposing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryu allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a four-pitch walk to Ryan Braun. Jesús Aguilar came up to bat with two out and two on, then smacked a two-RBI line drive double to right field. Moustakas and Kratz went back-to-back-to-back with Aguilar, putting up another three runs on an RBI double and single, respectively.

The Brewers kept rolling in the second inning. Christian Yelich and Braun each collected a double off of Ryu, bringing Milwaukee’s lead to 5-1 over Los Angeles. Braun advanced to third on a Travis Shaw groundout, but with Aguilar up to bat, Ryu wasn’t going to chance a repeat of the Dodgers’ first-inning debacle. He intentionally walked Aguilar, then whiffed Moustakas on three straight fastballs to cap the inning.

By the time both Miley and Ryu were forced from the mound, the Brewers stood 5-2 above their opponents. Right-hander Corey Knebel worked a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out Manny Machado to eliminate another potential rally from the Dodgers in the fifth inning and retiring all four batters in the sixth (save for Joc Pederson, who reached base after taking a 96.3-MPH fastball to the wrist). The righty received another significant opportunity to do some damage against the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up to bat for the first time in his professional career with the bases loaded and two outs… but saw just four pitches before swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.

After Ryu’s unexpected departure in the third, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts cycled through five pitchers — Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson, and Kenta Maeda — in an attempt to squelch the Brewers’ comeback. The bullpen combined for four consecutive scoreless frames, but was ultimately foiled in the seventh, when, with runners on second and third and two outs, a wild pitch from Maeda ricocheted off the front of home plate and allowed Aguilar to plate yet another insurance run. Still not content with a two-hit, two-RBI performance, Aguilar came back in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single — only moments after a failed double play that would have ended the inning — to bring the Brewers to a cushy 7-2 advantage as they entered the ninth.

No similar last-minute rallies awaited the Dodgers there. Rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes orchestrated another flawless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, retiring Pederson and Puig with consecutive strikeouts and inducing a game-inning, series-extending pop-up from Matt Kemp to wrap the win.

Game 7 is set for 8:09 PM EDT on Saturday. The starters for both clubs have yet to be announced.