Before Monday night, Aroldis Chapman existed mostly as a faraway concept, a stunningly talented pitcher suspended for 30 games for domestic-abuse allegations that couldn’t be fully substantiated by law enforcement.
Stowed in Tampa while serving his penalty, he was isolated from any social commentary, other than what he might glean from the Internet. He pitched in relative obscurity at the Yankees’ minor-league complex.
That all changed Monday night when Chapman finally was introduced to the Bronx. A loud air-raid siren screamed as the bullpen door opened. Bright flames ringed the third deck.
And the fans? They all cheered. Many of them were standing.
Called on in the ninth, Chapman was made real for the crowd. Putting on the pinstripes made him one of their own. The past crimes, the alleged physical abuse? All forgotten.
Not that we expected anything different.
“A lot of people have been asking me about that,” he said of the reception. “But after the reaction I got tonight, it was incredible.”
For a new Yankee, with his baggage, joining the team in May, the welcome was impressive.
Honestly, the last thing the Yankees need right now, with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller already ensconced at the back end of their bullpen, is another shutdown relief pitcher.
But Chapman is here, and the Yankees — along with their fans — might as well enjoy the ninth-inning rocket show for the duration of his stay. He’ll be a free agent at the end of this season, and if the Yankees don’t correct their other flaws, he’ll likely be traded by August.
But for those who can get past the nature of his alleged transgressions, what Chapman provided in the ninth was a lot of fun. He threw seven pitches in triple-digits, including two at 101 mph, getting oohs and aahs from the crowd. “It was electrifying,” Betances said. “As soon as he started warming up, people were taking out their phones.”
Chapman still allowed a run and two hits after whiffing the first two batters he faced. And he finished the Yankees’ 6-3 win not with a strikeout but with a tapper back to the mound.
As the 15-16 Royals are discovering this season, building a three-headed monster at the back end of the bullpen doesn’t work if they can’t hand it a lead.
That alone isn’t enough for a single victory during the regular season, never mind the playoffs. And if the Yankees had any delusions about what the addition of Chapman would mean for their own title dreams, the defending champs arrived in the Bronx lacking just about every other part that helped them beat the Mets in five games last October.
Without a serviceable starting rotation, or a lineup capable of generating more than a handful of runs, what good is assembling an all-time bullpen?
Former Met Chris Young, nearly unhittable against his former team in the World Series, surrendered five homers to the first 14 Yankees he faced. His implosion extended the Royals’ recent skid to 4-11, partly because of the fact that their rotation has an ERA above 6 in that span.
On the offensive side, the Royals entered Monday night having scored the fewest runs (32) in the American League in the previous two weeks, with the next-to-last OPS (.612). The Yankees were at the bottom (.611). No wonder that Ivan Nova, Phil Coke, Kirby Yates and Chasen Shreve held them to a pair of runs for eight innings to allow Chapman his low-pressure Bronx debut. Joe Girardi believed it was what everyone wanted.
“I had people over me, sitting behind the dugout, screaming to bring him into the game,’’ Girardi said. “So I thought [the reception] was pretty good.”
Just like Chapman throwing 101, it was what we expected.