Later, no less an authority than Pedro Martinez said on television: “I was pitching with [Aroldis] Chapman. He did what he was supposed to do. He kept hitting places where [Mike] Brosseau was supposed to swing and give him an easy out.”
At almost the same moment, Chapman said: “These situations fall on me. I am the closer.”
It was, to Kevin Cash, “Hands down, the greatest moment I’ve ever been a part of in baseball.”
It was a sequence of 10 pitches Friday night that ended one team’s season and extended another team’s, that elevated an undrafted free agent into an exclusive October club in which he will reside the rest of his career — if not his life — and left one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in baseball history shaking his head. Again.
It was an at-bat that lasted for 5 minutes and 17 seconds, and felt like it lasted so much longer, baseball measured in dog years. The game, just over three hours old, was tied 1-1. There was one out in the bottom of the eighth. Petco Park was quiet, save for the cheering and chanting emanating from both dugouts, lending it the feel of the world’s biggest American Legion game.
Tampa Bay’s Mike Brosseau stepped to the plate.
“Well,” Ron Darling said on TBS, “this is an interesting confrontation here.”
It was already well-documented: the 100-mph fastball Chapman had slung at Brosseau’s head on Sept. 1, the hard feelings that predated it, the angrier emotions that resulted from it. It certainly had a lot of Hollywood in it, before Chapman even threw his first pitch Friday.
That first pitch, a 98-mph fastball, bisected the plate. Brosseau looked at it. Strike one.
“Salty,” Darling said, describing the Rays-Yankees rivalry as it stood at 10:24 p.m., Eastern Time. Chapman dialed it up to 99. Brosseau swung, well late. It was 0-and-2. Pitching along with Chapman, Pedro said: “He’s out ahead. Now he can expand the zone.”
He tried. A splitter, 87, relatively new to Chapman’s arsenal, missed the outside corner by a millimeter. Maybe. He came back with the gas, 99, high, hoping Brosseau would chase. He didn’t chase; 2-and-2.
Brosseau: “I can’t help him there. I need to swing at strikes.”
He had to swing at the next one, a tilting 87-mph slider, and nudged it foul along third. Pedro, one craftsman saluting another, said, admiringly: “Change eye level. Go up. Go down. Use the slider. Use the split.”
And the fastball: 99 again. Brosseau fouled it back. But was on it.
“He had a better swing at that fastball,” Darling said. Gary Sanchez lobbed a fresh ball back to Chapman. He stared at it. Kicked the dirt in front of the rubber. Looked in for the sign. Sanchez put down one finger. Chapman reared back. At 101 it popped Sanchez’s glove … where? Low? Inside?
“Wow!” Darling said. Home plate umpire Marvin Hudson certainly could have called a strike, He had a wide zone most of the night. He called it a ball. Full count.
“That’s either a good take from Brosseau,” Darling said, “or the ball just beat him.”
Seven pitches in now. And now, the shakiest pitch of the at-bat: slider, 87, spinning, hanging, on a tee. Brosseau jumped on it, yanked it into the upper deck, well foul. Later, Pedro said, “That pitch made Chapman think. He remembers clear, clear, clear he was beat on his secondary pitch last year.”
Back to the cheese. Ninety-nine. Brosseau spoiled it.
“The swings against the fastball get better and better for Brosseau as the at-bat goes on,” Darling said. It was 10:29 p.m. now. Sanchez flashed one finger. Chapman nodded, reared back, fired.
It came in at exactly 100.2 mph. It left at 105.2. It cleared the left-field fence by a couple of feet. That was all. That was enough.
“I don’t know if there’s any way to describe that kind of feeling,” Brosseau said later. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
He isn’t alone.
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