In the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, after Rajai Davis already had homered off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth to tie the score, the Chicago Cubs closer faced the top of the Cleveland Indians lineup and retired Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor in order to send the game to extra innings, where the Cubs would win 8-7 in the 10th.
The bottom of the ninth will be forgotten, and I assume Joe Maddon's usage of Chapman over the final two games will eventually be consigned to only the deep pages of the history books. But Chapman, the Cubs and Maddon were fortunate to escape that ninth inning unscathed, and that the most intense second-guessing of a manager in baseball history didn't fully materialize.
Chapman brought new life to the debate during his introductory conference call on Friday to officially announce his five-year deal with the Yankees, however, saying, "Personally, I don't agree with the way he used me, but he is the manager and he has the strategy. My job is to be ready, to be ready to pitch, however that is, however many innings that is, I need to be ready for that. I need to go in and do my job."
Let's go back. Chapman entered in Game 6 with two outs in the seventh inning, the Cubs up 7-2 and runners on first and second. He threw two pitches that inning and 13 in the eighth. The Cubs scored twice in the ninth on Anthony Rizzo's two-run home run with two outs to make it 9-2, but Chapman started the bottom of the ninth and threw five more pitches before being removed.
Chapman said Friday he shouldn't have started the ninth. Maddon has admitted he should have had somebody warming up after Rizzo's home run. Chapman ended up throwing 20 pitches in Game 6 and then 35 in Game 7, when he clearly was pitching with diminished stuff and command -- although you can argue that Chapman throwing 97 mph instead of his usual 100-plus was still Maddon's best option. The home run Davis hit came off a 97 mph fastball, down and in, the only location Davis was likely to hit it for a home run.
In that ninth inning Chapman threw 14 pitches, but just four fastballs, none faster than 98. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs detailed here how Chapman got away with several mistakes that inning. Most notable was a 3-2, 85 mph slider to Carlos Santana in the middle of the plate. As Dave wrote, "This was the pitch Carlos Santana dreamed about as a little kid. World Series Game 7, bottom of the ninth, tie game, and a home run immortalizes your swing in baseball history. Except Santana missed it. Go back and watch his hop after he makes contact. He so badly wants that pitch back. He wants another chance to hit that ball 500 feet, because that's what that pitch deserved."
If Santana hits it over the fence instead of flying out, Chapman and Maddon go down as the biggest goats in baseball history. The issue here, however, wasn't so much Chapman's usage in Game 7, but whether Maddon should have used him in Game 6 with such a comfortable lead. When Chapman entered in the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs' win expectancy was 96 percent. No. 3 hitter Lindor was up, so you can understand the logic in Maddon's thinking: If Lindor blasts an extra-base hit, it's 7-4 and Cubs fans are suddenly a lot more nervous. He wanted Chapman to get through the meat of the Cleveland lineup.
It's ironic. For years, statheads had been arguing for managers to bring in their best relievers earlier in the game if the moment dictated so. Except in this situation, they didn't think it was a high enough leverage situation. This was all debated on Twitter at the time, even before the results of Game 7 unfolded. Yes, the number-crunchers are difficult to please; you have to get the decision exactly right, or be met with the wrath of criticism.
Earlier in December, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote a column about Maddon's World Series strategy. Maddon explained his Game 6 decision:
- They had two guys on and I did not like who was coming up to hit. I just wanted to make sure that we got through that with that same kind of lead. If you don't -- if I had brought someone else in and the lead diminished at all -- I thought the number of pitches he would have had to throw later in the game would have been even more impactful against him.
There was no Game 8. There was no Game 7 at that point. It's different, just a different situation compared to anything you would do in the regular season. We couldn't afford to lose any more games.
And in the bullpen, some of our guys had been hurt at the end of the year, Stropey (Pedro Strop) with the bad knee and (Hector) Rondon with a bad triceps. Of course, there was C.J. (Edwards) and (Mike) Montgomery to utilize also. But we could not lose any more games. I thought by keeping the game in tow right there, if we were to add on, I could get (Chapman) out on the backside, try to do a reverse kind of thing.
I thought the moment was right. It was a meaty part of their batting order. (No. 3 hitter Francisco) Lindor hit the ground ball to first base (to end the inning). And the next inning, I think the guy who really bothered me was (Jose) Ramirez. Ramirez, to me, is a really good player.
It was really a bad part of the batting order right there. I didn’t know and trust anybody else. I thought if we could at least hold serve there and move the needle in our favor that I would be more comfortable going with the other guys in the latter part of the game.
That's it right there. As speculated at the time, Maddon simply didn't trust Strop or Rondon, even with a five-run lead. Look, it's easy to argue that it wasn't a high-leverage situation, but given the Cubs' circumstances and history, if you're sitting in the dugout, your heart pounding, trying to get to Game 7, you bring in a diminished Strop or Rondon instead of one of the best relievers in the game. This isn't a computer simulation, and even then, 96 percent isn't 99.9 percent. Maddon wanted to avoid that 4 percent scenario at all costs.
In the end, I don't think those extra five pitches in Game 6 affected Chapman's performance in Game 7. It was more of the cumulative effect of not just the two days, but the entire postseason. Let's not forget that Andrew Miller, after a heavy postseason workload and pitching on three days of rest, allowed two runs in Game 7, including a home run to David Ross.
Which is maybe the point here: In the end, the players win and the players lose. Santana had a chance for the ultimate walk-off. He just missed. And Chapman, and Maddon, will be wearing World Series rings.