Fuck it, I’ll second-guess.
To the extent that Joe Maddon’s job last night was to win a baseball game, to stay alive and send this World Series to Game 7, he made the right move, bringing in Aroldis Chapman in a five-run game and using him for five outs. To the extent that Game 7 also matters, and the only reliever he really seems to trust has now thrown 60 pitches in the last two games, wear and fatigue become real, serious potential issues, and I am frankly baffled that Maddon believed the incremental reward—a better chance of protecting a five-run lead—outweighed the risk. That risk comes into play about 12 hours from now.
The Cubs won 9-3 in a game that was tenser than the score indicates, and pretty fun for an early blowout; the Indians never quite threatened, but they constantly threatened to threaten, if that makes any sense. The closest they got to actually threatening was when they put two on with two out in the seventh, and the score at 7-2. That’s when Maddon removed Mike Montgomery and went to Chapman, two days after he recorded the first eight-out save of his career.
“I mean, seventh inning there because they came up, the middle of the batting order was coming up — Lindor, Napoli, Ramirez possibly — all that stuff,” Maddon said. “So I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly.”
Fine. I’m fine with that. Leads can evaporate quickly—in Maddon’s nightmare scenario there, Jose Ramirez, in the hole, would have been the tying run. Maddon, you might remember (I’m sure he does) has seen sure things go bad. He was the Rays manager when, in Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS, Tampa blew a seven-run, seventh-inning lead to the Red Sox.
This has been the postseason of (most) managers finally embracing the philosophy of using their best relievers for the highest-leverage outs, no matter when in the game they come. Objectively, this was a pretty low-leverage situation; that five-run lead is quite the cushion. But it was the highest-leverage situation there was likely to be in this game, at least if things went the Cubs’ way.
Chapman got Lindor to ground out to first, though it required a replay review (with a fantastic camera angle) and the terror of seeing Chapman limp back to the dugout after rolling his ankle on the bag. (He says he’s fine.)
“If you don’t get through that,” Maddon said, “there is no tomorrow.” True. But with that fire put out, there is a tomorrow, another game to be managed, and I figured that would be it for Chapman. Give it to Wood or Rendon or Strop. They can get six outs before giving up five runs.
Yet Chapman came back out for the eighth. And then, even after Anthony Rizzo homered to make it a seven-run lead, the ninth. The person who runs the Cubs’ Twitter account got a little tired of people asking them what Maddon was doing:
Maddon said after the game Chapman only started the ninth because Pedro Strop didn’t have enough time to get warm after Rizzo’s homer. (Strop came on after Chapman walked the first batter.) But that means, without those insurance runs, Maddon was fully planning to trot Chapman back out to close the game with a five-run lead. That’s insane!
Chapman threw 20 pitches last night, a manageable number. But pitch count isn’t the only, or the primary mechanism of fatigue. It’s throwing, then sitting for a half-inning, throwing, sitting for a half-inning, throwing. That’s how soreness sets in, how inflammation fails to subside as quickly as it might. Maybe Chapman is freakishly rubber-armed, but back here in the world of human anatomy, there’s no way he can be as fresh or vigorous for a Game 7 appearance as he would have been had he faced just four batters, or one, or none at all.
And every batter Chapman faced last night was another opportunity for the meat of the Indians’ order to get more looks at him, and get a few swings in.
Tonight is Game 7, and it’ll truly be all hands on deck. Kyle Hendricks gets the start, and he’s been great, and Maddon says Jon Lester is ready to come out of the bullpen if need be. I’d honestly be shocked if anyone besides Hendricks, Lester, and Chapman throw a pitch. That’s the way it should be. And that’s daunting, but not as daunting as it might be had Chapman gotten two days off after a career-long outing in Game 5, an option that was gifted to the Cubs by gaining a large lead, and refused.
All these hypotheticals can never be answered satisfactorily. If Chapman is successful in Game 7, or if he stumbles, maybe those things would have happened anyway. We’ll never know. (We’ll also never know if the non-Chapman bullpen would have blown the lead last night, though it’s extremely unlikely.) But I would feel a lot better about Chapman’s chances of being effective for two, or three, or more innings tonight if he were fully rested.
“Whatever they ask me to do,” Chapman said, “I’m going to keep going until I can’t.” Well, yes, that’s precisely the potential problem.