One followed the other out the door in the Bronx, only six days apart. When the Yankees traded Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs on July 25, it signaled that Brian Cashman was warming to the fire sale that had been hinted at for weeks. And when Andrew Miller was sent to the Indians on July 31, it confirmed that the general manager’s rebuilding process had been green-lighted by Hal Steinbrenner.
Incredibly, given the epic title droughts of both star-crossed franchises, Chapman and Miller wound up in the same place — the 112th World Series, which begins Tuesday night at Progressive Field.
Chapman, who took over the closer’s job from Miller with the Yankees, was given the same role for the Cubs. But Miller, based on his flexibility, has become an even more dangerous weapon for Cleveland, capable of shutting down a lineup from the fifth inning on.
Only three months ago, these two shared the same bullpen. Now either one could be the difference-maker in deciding whether the Cubs win the World Series for the first time since 1908 or the Indians win their first title since 1948.
Minutes after Saturday night’s NLCS Game 6, which Chapman sealed by getting the final five outs, he was asked about squaring off against his former bullpen pal. Was Chapman looking forward to a reunion of sorts?
“Oh, yeah, I’m ready to go,” he said through his interpreter. “I’m ready to get on with it.”
What a dizzying trek for Chapman, whose December trade to the Dodgers came apart because of domestic-violence allegations that allowed the Yankees to gamble on making a deal with the Reds. Cashman figured that he either would be a key piece if the Yankees were a contender or a valuable trade chip. After the closer returned from a 30-game suspension levied by the commissioner’s office, it turned out to be the latter, and Chapman now gives Joe Maddon the option of using his triple-digit fastball for more than one inning.
Twice this month, Chapman got burned by his best pitch, with the Giants’ Conor Gillaspie and the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez barreling up 102-mph heaters. He’s been far from perfect, recording a 3.38 ERA in eight appearances and allowing two of six inherited runners to score. But that didn’t prevent Maddon from going to Chapman with a Dodger on first base and one out in the eighth inning Saturday night.
On his third pitch, a 100-mph fastball, Chapman got Howie Kendrick to bounce into a double play. In the ninth, after a strikeout and a walk, he needed one more pitch, at 101, to get Yasiel Puig to ground into an NLCS-ending double play.
“I’m very fortunate and blessed,” Chapman said, “that I was the man to bring this team back to the World Series.”
Chapman delivered the Cubs with those last few outs, something that had escaped them in 2003 and 1984. But as far as carrying a club to this Fall Classic, no reliever did it better than Miller, the ALCS MVP. He stifled the Blue Jays in every situation and struck out 14 in 7 2⁄3 scoreless innings, tying the strikeout record set by the Astros’ Brad Lidge in 2004. In this postseason, Miller has allowed no runs, five hits and two walks in 11 2⁄3 innings, striking out 21.
“Nobody’s ever done that,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “That big kid can do whatever he wants. When we were talking about who we should acquire at the deadline, this is the reason. Somebody that can come in for the biggest spots, we can leverage to the max, and that’s why we got him.”
While Chapman intimidates with scorching heat, Miller baffles the opposition with his unhittable slider, a contrast in styles reflected in their personalities.
After Miller received his ALCS MVP trophy Thursday, he leaned up against a locker in the frat-wild clubhouse, talking casually as he took the occasional swig from a champagne bottle.
“I can’t wait to see what it’s like in Cleveland, honestly,” Miller said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how they react.”
Back in New York, however, this World Series creates mixed emotions, for sure.