Aroldis Chapman jogged out to “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine, posed with his World Series ring, hugged and high fived his former teammates and, briefly, wore a Cubs cap in his first trip back to Chicago since last November.
Cubs catcher Miguel Montero laughed as he placed a blue Cubs hat on Chapman during a pregame ceremony honoring the flamethrowing closer who appeared in 13 postseason games last year. Chapman, wearing a New York Yankees hoodie, was all smiles as he quickly removed the cap and continued down the Cubs’ receiving line.
“He laid it all on the line for us, he gave it everything he had from the second he got here until that last out of the World Series,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “What a big part of our success and our run. Without him on our roster last year, we’re not winning the World Series.”
Chapman signed a five-year, $86 million contract last winter to return to the Yankees, and through an interpreter referenced the "rocky start" he had in Chicago, after the inevitable questions arose about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy to begin last season. But Chapman said overall he had a “beautiful experience” during his three months with the Cubs.
“I wasn’t here for very long, but the time that I was here, it was a blast,” Chapman said. “I had a really great time here, I met some really great guys here and to win a championship, that means a lot.”
Chapman recorded the final five outs of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, sending the Cubs to their first World Series in 71 years. A week and a half later, he gave up that dramatic home run to Rajai Davis that tied Game 7 of the World Series, a game that he now can look back on a little more whimsically than in the immediate aftermath of it.
“It was one of the better games I’ve ever been a part of,” Chapman said.
Chapman reminded Friday's crowd 40.395 of why the Cubs paid such a high price to acquire him before last year's trade deadline, with the 29-year-old recording the save after Brett Gardner's dramatic go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth. Chapman pitched over Chase Headley's error, which allowed Addison Russell to reach second to begin the ninth, by sandwiching strikeouts of Jason Heyward and Javier Baez around a Willson Contreras groundout.
The Cubs didn't consider having Heyward bunt -- "I challenge anybody in this room to go up there and attempt, especially if you’re left on left, to bunt a baseball against him," Maddon said to the assembled media after the game -- and Baez was victimized by a perfectly-timed pitch sequence: slider (strike looking), slider (strike looking), fastball (strike swinging).
It was innings like the one Chapman had Friday that were why the Cubs feel he was such a necessary part of their success in 2016.
“Not to denigrate anybody that was here, but he was one of the most important things we had last year,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Toward the last part of the season when we got him and what he did in the playoffs and the World Series is pretty much difficult to re-create. I said it before, we could not have done it without him.”