MINNEAPOLIS — Through the first two-plus months of the regular season, Aroldis Chapman had been arguably the best closer in all of Major League Baseball.
With one earned run allowed in 23 innings pitched, all signs pointed toward the Yankees cruising to the victory on Thursday night when Chapman was summoned out of the bullpen with a two-run lead over the Twins in the bottom of the ninth.
Four hits and two home runs later, Chapman bowed his head as he trudged back to the visitor's dugout, processing what went wrong in a crushing 7-5 loss.
"Clearly wasn't Chappie's night," manager Aaron Boone said after the game. "He's been as good as there's been in the sport and I just think his fastball lacked a little bit of life tonight and up against the top of their order, some really good fastball hitters."
New York led the entire game, storming in front in the first inning on a three-run blast off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton. In the ninth, all they needed was three more outs to secure the sweep. That's when both Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz connected on two-run homers to tie and win the game, respectively.
Cruz clobbered Chapman's final offering 457 feet to center field for a walk-off. It was Chapman's ninth pitch of the inning to forget.
"Just a bad night tonight," Chapman said through New York's interpreter.
It had been quite some time since Chapman was off his game. Entering play on Thursday night, the closer was 12-for-13 on save opportunities this season, striking out 43 of the 84 batters he had faced while allowing just seven hits all year long.
Thursday night, however, matched the most earned runs Chapman had ever allowed in a single appearance in his entire 12-year career. It hadn't happened since 2014, when he allowed four earned twice while pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.
The closer concurred with his manager after the game, saying he also noticed that his fastball didn't have as much velocity. He still touched 97.8 mph, but for a pitcher that routinely pumps fastballs in the triple digits, it was easier for the top of Minnesota's lineup to jump on heaters in the zone.
Without the speed on his fastball, Chapman recalled never having a chance to use his splitter, a new pitch that's been incredibly effective for him this season. After two errant sliders to start the frame, Chapman didn't throw anything other than his fastball for the rest of the inning.
As much as Chapman's implosion stung, hindering the Bombers from closing out a much-needed sweep, his teammates had his back, recognizing just how dominant the left-hander had been up to this point in 2021.
"He's such a stud that you totally expect it to be a quick one-two-three [inning] with two, possibly three punch outs," Yankees starter Michael King said. "So it's tough, but that's how baseball works."
Stanton added that over the years, you'll see nights worse like this on occasion. With a day off on Friday before the club starts their second series of the road trip in Philadelphia, the slugger wasn't concerned about Chapman or the team overall.
"You're not going to be perfect in any aspect of this game," Stanton said. "Having the lead most of the game, it is a bit unfortunate, but we got another one in two days, so we'll be alright."
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