After all, the Yankees closer was in a world of hurt after a dominant first two months of the season, coughing up historic leads to the Angels and Mets while battling a never-ending fingernail (?) problem.
But just like that, on Tuesday, Chapman…found his All-Star form.
Then, with an 0-2 count to Wander Franco, he lost it again…only to find it one final time against Nelson Cruz, of all people, to end the Yanks’ biggest win in weeks.
With two strikes and two outs on Franco, it looked like there was no way this one would get classically hairy, too. Chapman was locating the fastball to perfection, sneaking it just above the zone at 100 miles per hour or more.
When this pitch was thrown, it was clear this at-bat was going to be more Vlad Jr. in 2019 and less Rafael Devers in 2017.
Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman closed a “playoff” win against the Rays.
Unfortunately, after wonderful 0-1 and 0-2 pitches, Chapman and Gary Sanchez disobeyed every one of Paul O’Neill’s wishes, calling nothing but breaking balls to alter the momentum they’d built seconds earlier.
Nothing was close to Franco (he of the 80 OPS+) for the remainder of the at-bat, a sad streak that continued through Nelson Cruz’s at-bat, which reached the precipice of disaster at 3-0.
Cruz was poised to do what Cruz does in these situations, which is the whole reason he was purchased midseason by a Rays team that believes their October run can extend beyond the Wild Card Game. He was 2-6 career against Chapman, including a dead-center walk-off earlier this season while wearing a different uniform.
Sandwiched in between a few lobs to first, Chapman nicked the inside corner with two fastballs (the second one perfect), then bent a breaker to the bottom corner of the zone. Cruz swung through it. Ballgame.
The veteran slugger had a chance to ambush the first heater. He had no chance to do any damage with the next two perfectly-executed pitches. In the nick of time, Chapman found just about everything he’d lost since the end of May.
Hopefully, he can find it again tomorrow.