ARLINGTON, Texas – Aroldis Chapman’s final pitch on Saturday afternoon was a blazing 102.2-mph fastball that Mike Napoli swung through for the game’s final out.
In typical fashion, the Yankees followed up a terrible loss with a terrific win.
In atypical fashion, their $ 86 million man finished it without incident.
That was the biggest takeaway from the Bombers’ 3-1, come-from-behind victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Park: Chapman regaining the closer’s job that he lost on Aug. 19 and notching his first 1-2-3 save since July 25. He threw 11 of his 13 pitches for strikes while notching a pair of Ks.
“I feel good about him out there,” Joe Girardi said. “This is a guy that’s been too good for too long – for me – to lose it. It was good to get him out there, and he threw well.”
Chapman’s second stint in pinstripes after signing a five-year, $ 86 million deal to return to the Bronx over the winter has featured more downs than ups – perhaps a product of being overworked by Joe Maddon during the playoffs last season.
He spent more than a month on the disabled list due to left shoulder inflammation, and has rarely looked like his four-time All-Star self, specifically in posting a 7.27 ERA over nine appearances against the Red Sox.
Four blown saves and shoddy command caused him to lose his closer’s job. Pitching better in non-save situations and Dellin Betances surrendering a walk-off homer to Manny Machado on Tuesday in Baltimore allowed him to get it back.
“I’ve been working hard, keeping my head up and helping my team,” Chapman said through a translator. “I never felt bad about (losing my job). I was struggling. I was going through a rough patch. They decided to remove me from the position.
“The thing is that we have other pitchers on this team that are all capable of closing a game like Betances and (David) Robertson. And I was happy that they were getting the job done, because at this level you have to put aside your pride and focus on the most important thing, which is winning.”
Girardi said before the game that he hoped to rectify his team’s ninth-inning problem down the stretch with just one guy rather than a closer by committee situation. In a perfect world – at least the way the Yankees would like to draw it up, anyway – Chapman is that guy, with Betances, Robertson and Chad Green serving as the bridge to the Cuban Flamethrower.
In Luis Severino (7 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 10 K), the Bombers have a bona fide ace. In Gary Sanchez, they have a superstar hitter in the middle of their order.
The missing link on a team that has gotten healthier and received significant contributions from all over the roster – both young and old – has been the ability to lock down wins. The Yankees are 15-24 in one-run games and 60-10 when leading after six. They were 24-12 and 58-6 in those categories last season.
But if Chapman is right, everything else seems to fall in line. He took a positive step in the right direction on Saturday. Now, it’s about sustainability as the games matter even more and the possibility of October baseball looms.
“I felt good. I’m pretty happy that it went the way we wanted,” Chapman said. “We won the game. I was able to save the game and close it. I feel normal. Nothing out of the ordinary today.”