Aroldis Chapman called his recent stretch “probably the toughest moment of my career, for sure.”
It’s hard to fathom anything worse.
He entered Sunday night having thrown scoreless innings in his previous two outings, but neither was particularly impressive or in a save situation.
Prior to those appearances, Chapman had allowed 14 earned runs — and four homers — in 5 ²/₃ innings for a 22.24 ERA.
Then he entered in the top of the ninth Sunday with an eight-run lead and threw his first pitch to the backstop.
Kevin Plawecki drilled a fly ball to center that Brett Gardner tracked down for the first out. Chapman got Bobby Dalbec swinging, after throwing another errant pitch before retiring Kiké Hernandez grounded out to end it.
Afterwards, Aaron Boone said if a save situation had come up, Chapman would have been in the game.
And he was impressed with what he saw from him Sunday.
“After the first hitter, that was the best version of [Chapman] I’ve seen in a while,’’ Boone said, noting how Chapman drove his fastball through the zone and had a wipeout splitter.
Just as importantly to Boone, Chapman’s delivery looked better.
“It was good to see him execute the way he’s capable of,’’ Boone said.
Boone had used Chad Green in the team’s last save situation, when the Yankees blew a five-run lead in the ninth in Houston in the last game of the first half.
“Obviously, it’s difficult, but it’s even more difficult because as a team, we haven’t been playing [how] we expect,’’ Chapman said through an interpreter prior to the game.
“To go through a tough moment now is even harder,’’ Chapman said. “I’ve gone through rough patches throughout my career and it’s expected when you play this game. But right now, when you know every win counts so much, when you know when you don’t do your job, it usually means you’re gonna end up losing the game, that’s the very difficult part of it.”
Asked what’s changed since his early-season dominance, when he had a 0.39 ERA through his first 23 games, Chapman pointed to numerous factors.
In addition to the mechanical issues he’s working on, Chapman said he was “too confident” and that got him in trouble.
“Confidence is key in my role,’’ Chapman said. “It can hurt you either way. If you’re not confident, it can hurt you. If you’re overconfident, it can hurt you. I think everything started with me feeling too confident. You combine that with some mechanical stuff, everything got out of rhythm.”
He said of his confidence now, “It’s really good. There’s a hunger there and a fire to get back to where I was when I started the season.”
Chapman added he was such a mess on the mound that after he was named to the American League All-Star team, he told Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash that he didn’t want to pitch in the game.
“From the start, I was having doubts about pitching in the All-Star Game,’’ Chapman said.
He told Cash he didn’t “feel in a really good position to participate and pitch.”
Chapman decided to attend the game in Colorado was to support the protesters in Cuba, who are calling for a change in the country’s government in the wake of food and power shortages due in part to the effects of COVID-19.
“I understood it was a good opportunity to send a message to my Cuban community,’’ Chapman said. “I felt for a moment, there was a lot of attention and people watching.”
Chapman and Texas Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia wrote “SOS Cuba” on their hats for the All-Star Game.
“It was a message of hope to my fellow people in Cuba,’’ Chapman said of the inscription. “The regime has been ruling the country for over 60 years. … We hope to end communism in the country.”
He’s optimistic the exposure helped their cause.
“For people who think Cuba is a paradise, it’s not a paradise,’’ Chapman said. “There’s a lot of hunger, a lot of oppression of the people in Cuba. It was about bringing awareness. There are a lot of people on the street protesting and asking for help from the United States.”