Former Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman found himself on the wrong side of the highlight reel on Saturday, serving up Jose Altuve’s walk-off home run.
Without Aroldis Chapman, the Chicago Cubs don’t win the World Series in 2016. But the powerful left-hander also allowed perhaps the most harrowing home run in the team’s storied history – Rajai Davis‘ game-tying blast in the eighth inning of Game 7.
After allowing that home run, Chapman was visibly upset in the Cubs clubhouse. Of course, the team rallied after a brief rain delay, relegating Davis’ blast to the ‘what if’ archives of baseball lore. Unfortunately for Chapman, the home run he allowed to Jose Altuve in the ninth inning Saturday night ended the New York Yankees’ season as the Houston Astros advanced to their second World Series in three years.
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"“At that moment when the ball went out, I couldn’t believe it,” Chapman told MLB.com. “I couldn’t believe it went out at that time of the game. For that split-second, I just couldn’t believe it.”"
Altuve, who captured ALCS MVP honors, sent the Yankees home. After Aaron Boone‘s club overcame countless injuries en route to the American League East crown, their storybook season comes to a close – and Chapman will undoubtedly shoulder a large chunk of the blame.
The southpaw made 60 regular season appearances this season, his most since the 2015 campaign as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched to a 2.21 ERA and equally impressive 2.28 FIP while notching 37 saves. Despite his regular season success, all people will remember is him standing on the mound at Minute Maid Park in disbelief as Altuve rounded the bases in jubilation.
When the confetti settled in Grant Park three years ago, we all knew Chapman leaving via free agency was a foregone conclusion. Maddon employed the six-time All-Star in a manner that made that abundantly clear, wringing every pitch out of his left arm during the Cubs’ postseason run. But now, Chapman faces an important decision regarding his future.
After helping bring a title to Chicago, Chapman signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees. He now has the option to opt out of the final two campaigns (valued at $34.4 million). He’s heading into his age-32 season and could likely get a couple more years from a team given his performance this year. But there are some worrying signs, as well.
Since 2016, Chapman has used his fastball less and less, instead relying on his slider (ironically, the pitch Altuve hit out on Saturday night). But that makes sense because since his average fastball velocity spiked in 2016 (101.2 MPH) – it’s been on the decline annually, bottoming out this season at a very hittable 98.3 MPH. Is this the beginning of the end for the lights-out closer or will he adjust his approach without the overpowering velocity he once showcased.
No matter what the future holds for Chapman and where that future takes place, he’ll always have a special place in Cubs history. But on Saturday night, Chicago Cubs fans undoubtedly had flashbacks to that night in early November three years ago when Chapman stood on the mound and our dream of winning it all seemed to be very much in question.