CHICAGO – As elimination beckoned for the Cubs it seemed fair to ask why Joe Maddon wasn’t managing with the same sense of urgency as Terry Francona through four games of this World Series.
And then, just like that, the Cubs’ manager went all-Andrew Miller on the Indians.
Only he did it with Aroldis Chapman, which is quite different, in part because Francona has a top-notch closer in Cody Allen to free up Miller as the X-factor he has been in this entire post-season.
For Maddon it was Chapman or bust – for eight outs with a one-run lead.
“You want urgency?” Maddon might as well have been saying as he signaled for Chapman with one out in the seventh inning, and a runner on second base?
“I’ll give you urgency.”
Of course, the Indians’ might have muttering in more colorful language when they saw Chapman coming in throwing his 100-plus mph gas.
As Terry Francona said rather wryly afterward:
“Nobody’s ever running to the bat rack when Chapman comes into the game, I can tell you that.”
Chapman celebrates after saving the Cubs’ season, for now.
Chapman lived up to expectations, allowing only one runner to reach base, and that was only because he failed to cover first on a ball down the first base line. He racked up four strikeouts, blowing away Jose Ramirez with a 101-mph for the last out of the game.
In doing so he saved the Cubs’ season, in the form of a 3-2 win over the Indians that sends this World Series back to Cleveland, getting as many as eight outs in a game for the first time in his career.
Francona, fittingly, put it in proper perspective.
“That was a big ask,” Francona said. “And he answered it. That was impressive. It’s kind of like what Andrew’s done for us.”
Chapman and Miller. Miller and Chapman.
You knew back in July, when Brian Cashman traded each of them for a better future for the Yankees, they could have a major impact on the post-season.
But this is almost mano e mano at this point, Chapman answering Miller’s well-documented brilliance in this Series and the entire post-season with 2 2/3 innings of 100-mph heat that few other pitchers, if any, could duplicate.
In retrospect it seemed like a no-brainer, and indeed, Maddon said he made a point of notifiying Chapman before the game that he might use him as early as the seventh inning.
And the Cuban lefthander said he welcomed the challenge.
“I was mentally and physically prepared for it,” he said afterward.
Still, it was at least somewhat risky, since Chapman has been used almost exclusively as a three-out closer during his career.
But you had to applaud Maddon for following Francona’s lead in managing boldly. For one thing, his set-up relievers, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, don’t inspire a lot of faith, and, after all, the Cubs’ championship hopes were on the line.
Better to use his best weapon and lose, if it came to that, than to wait too long and wonder what might have been.
Buck Showalter and Zach Britton can attest to that.
Nevertheless, Chapman hadn’t fared well in this post-season when Maddon brought him in before the ninth, especially with runnners on base.
When the Giants got to him in such a scenario in the NLDS, in fact, Alex Rodriguez noted on the FOX post-game show that Chapman, his teammate with the Yankees this season, was very much “a routine guy,” meaning that he was more comfortable starting innings clean and usually working only the ninth.
Joe Maddon calls on Chapman knowing his best reliever needs to give him some distance.
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
For that matter, he’d only thrown more than 40 pitches on two occasions, both last season with the Reds.
This time, however, it paid off. He got his eight outs, including a huge strikeout of Francisco Lindor to end the eighth with Rajai Davis at third base, getting him looking with a 101-mph fastball.
Finally, with all of Chicago hanging on every pitch in the ninth, Chapman worked a 1-2-3 ninth, setting off an explosion of noise from a crowd at Wrigley Field that wanted to believe again.
Nope, the Cubs aren’t dead yet.
Just get us to Cleveland, in fact, was what Maddon said via his press conference a night earlier, trailing 3-1 in the Series. He wasn’t guaranteeing a momentous comeback, he sure seemed to be hinting at one.
Well, now they’ve taken Step One, but unfortunately for them, they’ve also seen the last of Trevor Bauer, the only Tribe pitcher against whom they’ve had any success.
So can the Cubs really pull this off? At this point you’d be nuts to underestimate the Indians, and it’s not as if the Cubs busted out offensively in a big way on Sunday night.
But at least for Game 6 the pitching matchup of Jake Arrieta vs. Josh Tomlin favors the Cubs, if it gets to Game 7, anything could happen.
One way or another, though, you can’t help thinking it is going to come down to Miller or Chapman getting the pivotal outs to win a championship.
In that regard Francona had been one step ahead of his counterpart in this World Series, but Maddon responded just in time. Sense of urgency indeed.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News