At the time, I thought Maddon was overmanaging, but there’s something I might have been overlooking, something that was made vivid in the recorded conversation between Rizzo and Ross: the bad case of nerves that was afflicting the younger players like Rizzo but maybe not the more experienced ones like Ross. Maddon had to be careful to place most of the pressure on players who were veteran enough to handle it. Chapman was one of those players.
Rizzo’s voice was cracking while he tried just to talk about how nervous he was. We saw hints of shared nervousness on the field in various bobbles and weak underhand tosses plus several unaccustomed missed scoops throughout the postseason by Rizzo himself. By game seven, the Cubs were a great defensive team playing at about 75% efficiency. But the greatest display of nerves was by Carl Edwards, who got to two outs quickly, but then, one out away from being the guy who “catches the catcher” in his arms to begin the 108-years-deferred celebration, found it physically impossible to throw a ball over the plate above the knees, and had to be relieved. Maddon knows nerves, and tried very hard not to put Edwards in that spot in the first place. But Chapman was worn out. The immaturity/unreadiness of the rest of the bullpen is the reason he was worn out.
Edwards is a cool customer compared to Strop and Grimm, who cannot be given the ball in a save situation, let alone this one. Edwards had two saves this year, compared to zero by Strop and Grimm. Montogomery had looked tired and given up a walk and a hit in a one-inning appearance the day before. Rondon developed a sore triceps in August and needs the offseason to recover fully. Lester was himself tired by the eighth inning.
But what about the day before, when Chapman was summoned while the Cubs led by five runs? Two things: one, you go all out in elimination games, just to be sure you’re not saving someone for a game seven that never gets played; and two, you don’t actually want to watch two or three slumping Indian hitters break out with hits late in a game six. Let them continue to nap.
Maddon’s solution is a) win the Series anyway despite a tired and vulnerable closer, and b) let the nerves suffered this year cure themselves over time.
I thought, by the way, that Maddon was brilliant when he sent Chapman back out in the bottom of the ninth with instructions to throw mostly offspeed pitches. Not only was it brilliant but it actually worked. It’s hard to hit 103 even when you know it’s coming; but Chapman didn’t have 103 on Wednesday. So he resorted to what is commonly referred to as “pitching,” and was able to retire hitters easily with a mere 97 after softening them up with 89. Imagine Chapman having to pitch! I like my gods when they’re down-to-earth, with a touch of humanness, like Chapman (and Maddon) in game seven.