When Chapman went to the mound in the ninth, and Michael Brantley greeted him with a line-drive single, the sellout crowd rose to its feet, rekindling memories of that chilly night last fall.
“It’s a natural thing,” Indians right fielder Brandon Guyer said. “It went through our minds. It’s a new year, a new game, but it definitely brought some memories back.”
In Game 7, it was Guyer who greeted Chapman with a run-scoring double with two outs in the eighth and then scored on the Davis homer — a line drive down the left-field line that just cleared the wall.
While Davis, now with the Oakland Athletics, was missing from the scene, Ramirez acted as something of an understudy. Ramirez followed Brantley’s single by connecting with an 0-2 pitch from Chapman and sending a high drive toward the 20-foot-high left-field wall. Gardner drifted back and leapt to make the catch, sending Brantley scurrying back to first instead of racing closer to home.
“It was fortunate it wasn’t hit six inches higher, because it could have been a different result in the game,” said Gardner, who pounded his glove after he had made the catch. “Off the bat, I don’t think anybody knew what was going to happen.”
Edwin Encarnacion followed by lacing a soft liner to right field that second baseman Ronald Torreyes was able to chase down with a diving catch. With two outs, Carlos Santana — who had lined a solo homer off starter Jordan Montgomery in the second inning — worked the count full and lined a fastball down the right-field line that at the last moment sliced just wide of the foul pole.
Chapman finally struck Santana out with a slider.
“How packed it was, how we quickly got somebody on base and then Ramirez almost hit a home run, and Santana almost hit a home run,” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said, recounting the ninth inning. “It kind of takes you back to those moments, those pretty cool moments.”
Chapman, however, brushed away a question about any memories he had of Game 7 with a terse “No.”
Headley said Chapman must have been feeling a great deal of emotion and adrenaline.
“It’s good that he’s been in those spots and had to make pitches in big spots, but I’m sure coming back here — it didn’t go as well the last time he pitched here,” Headley said. “I’m sure it was in the back of his mind. He’s also one of the best in the world at what he does, so I’m sure he had a lot of confidence as well.”
Chapman seems to have somewhat steadied himself lately after blowing a lead at Fenway Park to start the second half of the season and being chided by Manager Joe Girardi for relying too heavily on his fastball. That Game 7 appearance might have been an instructive one — after Guyer and Davis hammered fastballs, Chapman came back out for the ninth inning and relied on his two off-speed pitches, a slider and a changeup, to carry the game into the 10th inning, where the Cubs won it and the World Series.
“If he’s not wild, he’s a great reliever,” Lindor said. “If he’s wild, this is the big leagues — guys aren’t really going to swing at it. That’s when he gets in trouble, when he’s not throwing strikes.”
It also may have helped Chapman to have Austin Romine behind the plate Saturday night. Romine has counseled Chapman to trust his off-speed pitches more, since his fastball is a few ticks slower this season — rarely getting above 101 miles per hour since he returned from the disabled list in June. Romine was in the lineup in place of Gary Sanchez, who had a desultory game behind the plate Friday night and moved to designated hitter in place of the slumping Matt Holliday, who could be headed to the disabled list.