It may be mid-December, but that didn’t stop fireballing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman from throwing some high heat. Echoing criticism levied at the time, he questioned the way he was deployed in the postseason by Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
“Personally, the way he used me during the playoffs, I believe there were a couple of times where maybe I shouldn’t be put in the game and he put me in,” Chapman said through a translator. “So I think, personally, I don’t agree with the way he used me. But he is the manager, and he has the strategy.”
Chapman was on a conference call with reporters Friday, a day after his five-year, $86-million contract to rejoin the Yankees became official. But the session became his first chance to publicly air his grievance.
“The one that I can point to is Game 6 . . . I don’t think I needed to come into the game,” Chapman said. “Looking forward, the important game was to have me Game 7.”
The Cubs leaned on Chapman hard en route to their first World Series championship since 1908.
With the Cubs down three games to one, he threw 42 pitches in 2 2⁄3 shutout innings in Game 5 on Oct. 30.
Two nights later, he was summoned again, this time with the Cubs leading 7-2 in the seventh. Maddon caught heat when he left Chapman in the game to begin the ninth even after the Cubs pushed their lead to 9-2 — a move that ultimately compromised Chapman in Game 7.
“Basically, we had that game almost won,” said Chapman, who threw 20 pitches in 1 1⁄3 innings in Game 6. “The next day, I came in and was tired.”
Indeed, Chapman helped set up the drama of the 10-inning Game 7 by blowing a 6-3 lead. In the eighth, he allowed Brandon Guyer’s RBI double and Rajai Davis’ tying two-run homer.
Chapman led baseball with an average fastball velocity of 100.9 mph, according to Statcast. He threw the 30 fastest pitches in the majors in 2016, including a 105.1-mph fastball that equaled his big-league record set in 2010.
But by the ninth inning of Game 7, he was gassed, with his fastball registering in the mid-90s. Still, he pitched a perfect ninth and was credited with the victory when the Cubs won it in the 10th, 8-7. At that point, he had thrown 97 pitches in 5 1⁄3 innings in a span of four days.
Chapman, who said his arm is healthy, said he did not make an issue of it at the time. “If I’m healthy, I’m going to go out there and pitch,” he said. “If I’m tired, I’m going to put that aside and just get through it. It’s kind of like a warrior, you know, they send you somewhere and you’ve got to go there. Your mentality is that you have to go there and do your job. That’s the way I see it.”
The native of Cuba also made it clear that the Marlins’ boom-and-bust history of build-ups and rebuilds turned him off to the possibility of playing there, though he said they made a competitive bid that brought them “close” to signing him.
“They change their team a lot,” Chapman said. “I wanted to have a stable team of young players where I could feel at home.”
He said he wanted to rejoin the Yankees, citing their 27 championships, a roster of talented young players and the support they offered him upon his arrival in a trade last December amid the early fallout from a domestic-violence incident that led to a suspension. That time period proved to be key in his decision.
“The main thing was the way they welcomed me,” Chapman said. “I was coming to this team with a problem . . . They made me feel at home. That kind of support, it’s something that you need in a moment like that.”
Chapman’s deal, the most lucrative contract ever given to a reliever in major-league history, includes an opt-out clause that he can exercise after the 2019 season. He also has full no-trade protection through 2019.
“I’m not thinking about leaving or not leaving,” he said of the opt-out. “That’s three years from now. That’s a long time.”
Chapman, who will turn 29 on Feb. 28, agreed to the terms of his deal on Dec. 7. It did not become official until Thursday, leading to Friday’s conference call with reporters.
For the Yankees, a reunion with the four-time All-Star made sense. They had gained plenty of familiarity with Chapman, who posted a 2.01 ERA with 20 saves in 31 games and proved he could handle the rigors of New York before being traded to the Cubs for pitcher Adam Warren and three prospects: shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielders Billy Mc Kinney and Rashad Crawford.
Torres won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League and McKinney once was a first-round draft pick of the A’s.
Also, signing Chapman did not cost the Yankees draft-pick compensation, another reason that a reunion seemed to make sense from the start.
Chapman was 4-1 with 36 saves, a 1.55 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 58 innings in 2016. He made 13 postseason appearances with four saves and a 3.45 ERA.
His blockbuster signing provided an appropriate bookend for what has been an unusually eventful year. It has been 354 days since the Yankees traded four players to the Reds for Chapman on Dec. 28, 2015.
Since then, Chapman served a 30-game suspension under baseball’s domestic-violence policy, returned to form as a dominant closer, joined the Cubs in a deal pulled off near the trade deadline, helped to end a championship curse dating to 1908 and rejoined the Yankees by signing a historic deal.
To make room for Chapman on the 40-man roster, righthanded pitcher Nick Goody was designated for assignment.