NEW YORK — Just when it seemed like Aroldis Chapman had turned a corner on the mound, settling into a groove over his last few outings, the Yankees' closer ran into trouble against one of the league's worst lineups.
Pitching the ninth inning on Saturday against the Orioles, in a tie game, Chapman loaded the bases with no outs, allowing the game-winning run to score on a sacrifice fly.
"I thought he finished the inning pretty well which was good to see when he started to teeter a little bit there," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after the 4-3 loss. "He was able to rein it in."
Chapman retired the final three batters he faced, finishing the outing with three strikeouts. It was a dropped third strike on the first batter of the inning—a spiked splitter that Gary Sánchez couldn't block—that allowed Ryan Mountcastle to reach, the eventual go-ahead run.
Boone's typical positivity persisted after the game as the skipper reiterated his faith in the closer despite what's been a turbulent campaign.
"Especially after the last month long struggle, overall it's been pretty good since then and obviously some of the corrections we feel like have taken hold," Boone explained. "Before today I thought his previous two outings were not only strong but really efficient as well. And then today, when it started to get a little wobbly there, I felt like he was able to corral it and that's important moving forward as well."
In many ways, Chapman's season has been indicative of the way his team has performed as a whole. The closer started the year without allowing an earned run for 18 innings. Then, all of a sudden, the left-hander had a 22.24 ERA over a horrid nine-game stretch from early June through July 4.
Those ups and downs continued into the second half. The flamethrower was lights out for close to an entire month leading up to two performances in August where he couldn't finish off save opportunities against the Red Sox and Braves.
As Boone mentioned, an adjustment in Chapman's posture helped the southpaw find it from there. He entered play Saturday looking to twirl his fourth straight scoreless frame.
Instead, it turned out to be the closer's latest clunker, emblematic of his battle to find consistency all season long.
"Every day, I'm out there practicing and looking for that consistency," Chapman said through the team's interpreter. "You're trying to be as consistent as you can from one pitch to the next. It's consistent work every day and you keep working at it, you keep looking and trying to find that consistency."
When Chapman has been on his game this year, he's been unhittable. That's when he's able to locate his blazing fastball, mix in his nasty splitter and avoid falling behind or getting into trouble. Other times, it seems like Chapman doesn't know where the ball is going, allowing a team like the Orioles to rally.
If New York wants to play deep into October, the success of the bullpen could hinge upon which version of Chapman they get in the playoffs. He has less than a month to recapture that rhythm or figure out what needs to change before the postseason begins.
"You've got to keep working at it," Chapman said. "The goal is to keep improving every day and that's what I focus on. I focus on the work and I'm just trying to improve every day."
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