CHICAGO — The Yankees had a three-run lead heading into the ninth inning on Sunday Night Baseball with the highest-paid closer in the sport’s history on the mound, but Aroldis Chapman couldn’t nail down the final three outs against his former team.
And then the game continued. And continued. And continued some more.
It continued until ex-Cub Starlin Castro pushed Aaron Hicks home with a grounder in the 18th inning and Chasen Shreve retired Kyle Hendricks with two on for the final out at 2:14 Eastern time in what became a night-morning doubleheader, which had started at 8:09 Eastern.
Chapman, signed to a five-year, $ 86 million deal to return to the Bronx in the offseason, suffered his first blown save since Game 7 of the World Series.
The closer entered with a 4-1 lead but issued a leadoff walk to Addison Russell, and things only got worse from there. Albert Almora singled to make it 4-2. Javier Baez singled to make it 4-3. And with two outs and the bases loaded, Chapman hit Anthony Rizzo to force home the tying run.
Just like that, Chapman was out and Tyler Clippard was in. Chapman came in with a 0.79 ERA and was a perfect 7-for-7 in saves in his second stint in pinstripes.
There may have been a few borderline pitches that went the other way with Joe West behind the plate, but the bottom line is Chapman didn’t get the job done, putting a damper on the terrific nights had by Luis Severino and Aaron Judge.
Those two combined to put the Yankees up 4-1. Severino delivered seven innings of one-run, four-hit, nine-strikeout ball while Judge gave the team a 2-1 lead with his RBI triple in the seventh, snapping an 0-for-7 stretch. And to think, both of those guys could’ve started the season at Triple-A Scranton if they had bad springs.
Jacoby Ellsbury added a two-run homer in the eighth to make it 4-1. But then Chapman imploded and the game lasted for what felt like forever. In total, it spanned six hours, five minutes.
It featured the most combined strikeouts in the history of baseball (47). It also featured two seventh-inning stretches — including one in the 14th with Harry Caray singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”
All the while, fans streamed out of Wrigley, leaving only a few to chant “Joe West (stinks)!” in the 16th.
All because Chapman couldn’t get the job done. Maybe it will be just a blip on the radar in a long season where even the best closers blow the occasional save.
Chapman did bail out Chase Headley on Friday afternoon while striking out two to complete the team’s comeback win after receiving his 2016 World Series championship ring earlier in the day.
But the Yankees are paying Chapman a ton of money to deliver in spots like this, and if the Bombers are fortune enough to keep this up and make it to October, he’ll need to take care of business.
“It’s a volatile situation but that’s the price of poker,” Brian Cashman said amid criticism about the length and amount of the record contract, given that Chapman throws 100 miles per hour.
But the Marlins wanted him too, and so the Yankees had to up the ante to get their man.
It didn’t work out well on Sunday night, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.