In just two nights, Aroldis Chapman has become an off-off-Broadway production of “Hamilton,” a must-see Bronx attraction, but with an unpredictable schedule determined by factors beyond his control.
So what Andrew Miller did Tuesday night was akin to pulling the fire alarm minutes before the curtain was prepared to go up. Miller, the former Yankees closer, is now entrusted with setting the stage for the featured performer. And if he doesn’t do his job, the Chapman Show gets canceled for the night. Or at the very least, postponed for a while.
With Miller’s brilliant resume, however, that wasn’t something the Yankees spent much time worrying about. Right up to the moment when Lorenzo Cain led off the eighth inning with his third homer, this one tying the score at 7, to hand Miller his first blown save since last September — and first ever at Yankee Stadium.
“For me, it’s one pitch,” Miller said. “I don’t feel exactly as sharp as I should right now. But that’s the way the season goes. It’s ups and downs. Figure it out tomorrow.”
This particular pitch was a 2-and-1 slider that caught too much of the plate, against the wrong hitter, at the wrong time. For Cain, the baseball looked like a beach ball all night, and maybe it was only a coincidence that Miller’s worst outing this season also was his 2016 debut in the setup role.
Or not. Before Tuesday, Miller was 6-for-6 in save chances and hadn’t allowed a run in 12 appearances, a total of 11 2⁄3 innings, with 20 strikeouts and one walk. After the bomb to Cain, Miller recovered to strike out the side, but not before plunking Kendrys Morales and giving up a single to Salvador Perez.
There must have been something else at work here, with maybe the new role, and late-inning uncertainty, nudging Miller slightly off his axis for one night. We’re not knocking Miller. It’s a testament to how untouchable he’s been in pinstripes that we’re putting him on the couch for psychoanalysis after surrendering a single run.
“Unfortunately that’s the reality,” Miller said. “You try to make adjustments. I just don’t feel like I’m getting ahead like I was a couple weeks ago. At the same time, he was locked in, I just made a mistake and really had to pay for it.”
The one positive? It wasn’t too costly. The Yankees rallied in the bottom half to go ahead 10-7 and Chapman got to make his big entrance in the ninth inning. Miller’s gaffe meant the night definitely didn’t go as planned — they’re not the Nasty Boys 2.0 quite yet. But the Yankees still got everything they wanted, a 10-7 win over the Royals with Chapman lighting up the radar gun for a second straight night.
After Monday’s long-awaited return from a 30-day suspension, Tuesday’s encore was even better as Chapman went a tick higher by registering 102 mph on the stadium radar gun, a blistering speed that again delighted the crowd. Somehow, Cheslor Cuthbert managed to connect with one of those 102-mph missiles leading off the ninth, but his bat disintegrated as the ball meekly rolled toward first base.
“The fans like to see triple digits,” Chapman said through his interpreter, “so I understand why they get excited when they see me do that. I’m happy I’m able to do that, too.”
The Royals? Not so much. Christian Colon endured three 100-mph heaters before whiffing for the second out and Cain, after torturing the Yankees all game, didn’t have an enjoyable end to his night. Chapman threw him six pitches 100 mph or higher until he fought off a 101 for a feeble pop to second.
“I’m glad I’m catching them and not facing them,” Brian McCann said. “The fans pay for a ticket to see that. I’d pay for a ticket to see that.”
After two nights, however, the Chapman Show is off Wednesday. It will be the understudy’s turn, and the Yankees must hope Miller is ready to shine again in his old role.