Chapman vs. Vladdy everything you hoped for
Rookie has epic 13-pitch battle in first meeting with Yankees closer
TORONTO -- Aroldis Chapman faced Vladimir Guerrero Sr. once, and the flame-throwing lefty correctly recalled on Sunday that he had retired the future Hall of Famer in that 2011 at-bat. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. proved to be much more difficult to put away, and their power vs. power showdown on Sunday made for epic theater.
Summoned to pinch-hit with the game on the line, Guerrero fought the Yankees closer for 13 pitches, fouling off seven -- including one that struck the facing of the upper deck in left field -- before Chapman finally induced a double-play grounder. Chapman then locked down the save in the Yankees' 1-0 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
"The mentality right there is to get him out," Chapman said through a translator. "It’s as a simple as that. But it was a great at-bat by him. He made me work. I pitched him inside, I threw a slider, I threw a two-seamer and -- nothing. It was just a good at-bat from him there."
The battle marked the longest plate appearance that Chapman has endured in over a decade in the Majors, and it showcased why Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo is among those who believe that the 20-year-old Guerrero is destined to become one of the sport's brightest stars.
“I’ve never seen somebody hit a double-play ball and get a standing ovation from the fans," Montoyo said. "That at-bat by Vladdy against the best closer in baseball was awesome to watch. I love the way we’re playing. It’s pretty cool."
The inning opened with Masahiro Tanaka on the mound, granted an opportunity to try for a shutout. Brandon Drury's single drew manager Aaron Boone to the mound, raising his left hand to summon Chapman while Montoyo tapped Guerrero to bat for No. 9 hitter Reese McGuire.
“I knew the situation,” McGuire said. “I knew there was a chance they were going to pinch-hit for me and I was pumped for Vlad, excited for him to get that AB. It was kind of funny because as soon as I was dapping him to say, ‘Go get ‘em, bro,’ the crowd erupted. They must have all seen him at the same time coming out of the dugout."
Chapman's previous encounter with Guerrero's father came in a June 26, 2011, contest between the Reds and Orioles, resulting in a five-pitch strikeout. Now it was the son's turn, and with Drury dancing off first base, Chapman pumped two fastballs up and in past Guerrero's healthy hacks to get ahead in the count.
“That was the strategy early in the at-bat, up and in," Chapman said. "Then I tried to pitch him up and out, and eventually ended up getting him out going inside."
Guerrero fouled away a 99.8 mph sinker, looked at a 99.3 mph sinker in the dirt, then fouled off an 86.2 mph slider before loudly connecting with another slider, producing a drive down the left-field line that struck the facing of the upper deck in foul territory.
“I was sitting next to [Ryan] Borucki in the locker room, and both of our hands were sweating like crazy,” Blue Jays pitcher Trent Thornton said. “If he connects, that thing is going a long, long way. Him, and a lot of other guys on the team, are a lot of fun to watch because anything can happen on any pitch.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone described the mood in his dugout as "good tension."
"That's obviously in a lot of ways the ballgame there, in a very well-played 1-0 game," Boone said. "You've got a young, rising, great-looking hitter against the game's dominant closer. It was a great match to watch those two go at it."
Chapman tried three more fastballs, but Guerrero held his own, fouling off two and looking at one to run the count to 2-2. The 10th pitch of the at-bat was a slider fouled away, and Guerrero stared at a 100.8 mph sinker that filled the count.
“That was one of the best at-bats of the day by anybody on both sides," Yankees catcher Austin Romine said. "They were just battling. It was one of their better hitters and our closer going after it. To come off the bench like that and to hit off Chappy throwing 100 and to foul off some really good sliders down, it was a good at-bat."
After Guerrero fouled off an 85.4 mph slider, Chapman reared back for a 99.6 mph fastball that Guerrero scorched to shortstop Gleyber Torres for a 6-4-3 twin killing. Chapman said that as the ball came off Guerrero's bat, he felt tremendous relief.
“Of course, especially when you get a ground ball like that and you end up turning a double play," Chapman said. "Any time you’re able to get a double play when you need it, it feels great."
Bo Bichette kept the Jays' hopes alive with a clean single, but Chapman struck out Cavan Biggio to nail down his 31st save in 36 chances.
"We all wish he could have hit one out of the park or something like that, but there are so many positives in that at-bat," McGuire said. "All three of those at-bats were, I guarantee, a lot tougher than Chapman was probably expecting.”