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Aroldis Chapman wins Mariano Rivera Award as American League's top reliever

Milwaukee Brewers Josh Hader, right, and New York

Milwaukee Brewers Josh Hader, right, and New York Yankees Aroldis Chapman pose with their reliever of the year trophies at a news conference before Game 4 of the baseball World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

WASHINGTON — Aroldis Chapman’s 2019 season couldn’t have ended much worse.

But the closer’s overall season was one of the best of his standout career, and Chapman was recognized for that before Game 4 of the World Series when he was presented the Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year Award as the American League's top relief pitcher.

“For me to receive this award is an honor because of how much it means to us relievers,” Chapman said in a statement. “This is my first time winning this award, but what makes it really special is having the opportunity to wear the same uniform and to pitch from the same mound as Mariano Rivera.”

Chapman, who did not take questions from reporters after being presented the award by Rivera and commissioner Rob Manfred, posted a 2.21 ERA in 60 appearances this season and had 37 saves, one short of his career high. The lefthander, named the AL Reliever of the Month for May and August, struck out 85 batters in 57 innings.

All of that, however, is not fresh in the minds of Yankees fans. What they're thinking about is the hanging slider from Chapman that Jose Altuve crushed to left-centerfield in the bottom of the ninth inning of ALCS Game 6. His two-run homer gave the Astros a 6-4 victory and sent them to their second World Series in three years.

Chapman, who signed a five-year, $86 million contract before the 2017 season, has an opt-out in the contract that he can exercise this offseason. A July report said he already had decided to opt out, but multiple sources shot down the story.

 “No player makes that decision in July,” one opposing executive said at the time. “Too many variables [that can change].”

According to several insiders, Chapman loves being in pinstripes and has little desire to re-enter the free-agent process, one that has not been kind to most players in recent years. What cannot be ruled out is Chapman and the Yankees reaching some kind of arrangement early in the offseason in which his deal is sweetened somewhat, whether it be dollars or years or both.

Brewers lefthander Josh Hader was the recipient of the National League award, which is named for Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman. Hader posted a 2.62 ERA in 61 games and, for the second straight year, struck out the most batters of any reliever in the game. He fanned 138 in 75 2/3 innings, a 16.4 K/9 ratio.

No move for Suzuki

Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, who injured his right hip flexor during Game 3, had an MRI on Saturday, but Washington chose not to make a roster move. Suzuki would not have started Saturday night anyway; Yan Gomes, who has caught Game 4 starter Patrick Corbin all season, was in the lineup.

If the Nationals decide to make a move, it would be to add either Raudy Read or Tres Barrera, the lone catchers remaining on their 40-man roster.

“Obviously, we need a backup catcher,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “If he’s not going to be able to play for a few days, we’re going to have to do something else.”

Last hurrah in Houston?

Gerrit Cole, a free agent after the season — and one the Yankees will pursue, though how fervently they will do so remains a question — said it did not cross his mind that his Game 5 start Sunday could be his final one in an Astros uniform.

“No,” Cole said. “It's been a blast since I've been here. I wasn't on the team in '17 [that won the Series] and I'm not thinking about anything past the next few days.”

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