Joe Girardi certainly did not come out looking like an imbecile, and he did not have to admit he screwed anything up, after putting the ball in the fire-breathing left hand of Aroldis Chapman for the final five outs on Sunday night.
Chapman had apologized to Girardi one day earlier for what he insisted was an accidental “liking” of an Instagram comment — which had called for the manager’s job and referred to him as an imbecile — while scrolling through his phone on the team’s flight back to the Bronx.
All clearly was forgiven and maybe even eventually will be for Girardi, who was booed lustily during pre-game introductions for his video-review blunder two nights earlier in Cleveland after Chapman notched four strikeouts with his blazing heat to slam shut the Yankees’ 1-0 Game 3 victory over the Indians to keep them alive in the AL division series.
“I was checking my social media and by accident I hit the like button on one of those comments. I spoke to Joe (Saturday) and I told Joe it was an accident,” Chapman said through a translator after the game about the Instagram controversy. “To be clear here, I’m 100 percent behind my manager and behind my teammates here.
“I completely disagree with that statement and any negative statement that has to do with our team.”
To be clear here, let’s not forget that Chapman was the one who expressed serious displeasure with Cubs manager Joe Maddon — upon returning as a free agent to the Yankees last winter — over his extended usage last season during Chicago’s drought-busting championship run one year ago.
Aroldis Chapman reacts after recording the final out of the Yankees’ win.
The Cuban lefty appeared in 13 postseason games for the Cubs, throwing 97 pitches over 5.1 innings in the final three games of the World Series. He was tagged for one of the most stunning home runs in recent memory — a game-tying blast by Cleveland’s Rajai Davis in the eighth inning of Game 7 last Nov. 2 — only to end up getting through another inning on fumes and earning the win in the clincher when the Cubs plated two runs in the 10th following a brief rain delay.
“It’s definitely an experience I wasn’t used to, throwing multiple innings in postseason, but going through all that it prepares you and helps you do your job,” Chapman said Sunday.
Still, removing MasahiroTanaka at 92 pitches after seven terrific shutout innings, and turning over a 1-0 lead to a bullpen that had been heavily taxed already through the first three playoff games, instantly opened up Girardi for more second-guessing.
Especially on the heels of his colossal gaffe in Game 2 on Friday, when he didn’t challenge a clear foul tip into catcher Gary Sanchez’s mitt, which the umps had ruled clipped Indians hitter Lonnie Chisenhall.
On top of all the criticism Girardi deservedly received afterward, he also woke up Saturday to learn of his closer “liking” a social-media post that wanted him fired and had called him an imbecile.
Yankees vs. Indians 2017 American League Division Series
“We talked about it,” Girardi explained before the game. “He came in and apologized. He was concerned about it that night. He had conversations with people, not me, because it was two or three in the morning.
“I really believe him, I take his word for it that it was an accident and we move forward.”
Fast forward a few hours, after Tanaka’s absolute gem in his possible final start as a Yankee with an opt-out decision looming, and after Greg Bird’s solo blast to right for the game’s lone run. Here came David Robertson again for the first out of the eighth before the manager strode to the mound and quickly summoned Chapman following a walk to Michael Brantley.
“Chappy’s been in so many big games, he understands,” Girardi said. “Remember where Chappy was last year at the end of the year, he’s been in these games.”
This was the same Chapman, mind you, whom the Yankees traded last July and then re-signed to an $ 86 million contract as a free agent during the offseason and then demoted from his closer’s role during a midseason bout with wildness and ineffectiveness only to reinstall him over the past month or so.
Aroldis Chapman celebrates with Gary Sanchez.
The lefty threw 34 pitches in all on Sunday night, blowing away Yan Gomes and Giovanny Urshela to finish the eighth and Franisco Lindor to start the ninth. Singles by Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez provided just enough added tension before ex-Met Jay Bruce struck out for the fourth time on the night and Carlos Santana skied a 3-2 pitch to Aaron Hicks in center to get the Yankees to Game 4.
In all, 10 of Chapman’s offerings clocked in at least 102 miles per hour, including all four punch-out pitches. For perspective, there were only 10 total pitches of at least that warp speed thrown by every other pitcher in baseball combined during the regular season.
“This is a decisive game, you can’t hold back,” Chapman said after registering his first postseason save in pinstripes. “Everything you have, you have to go out there and give it all you have. Like I said before, without tonight, there is no tomorrow.”
Perhaps Chapman will compare Girardi’s usage to Maddon’s by the offseason, too, but he expects to be ready for more if needed in Game 4 on Monday night.
“I believe so. I’m gonna do everything I can to be ready for tomorrow,” the closer said. “Without a win tomorrow, there’s no Game 5.”