CINCINNATI- It was a nice and beautiful Mother’s Day inside Great American Ballpark, the noise inside it went crazy, when a guy they call the “Cuban missile” made a job from the Cincinnati Reds bullpen near left centerfield, it was a sight all Reds fans were happy to see, finally.
Fans near the bullpen had been watching Reds closer Aroldis Chapman warm up. When the door to the field opened and Chapman began walking toward it, those fans knew a very special moment was about to occur. They stood and cheered, attracting the attention of other fans around them. The outburst extended through a crowd of more than 33,000 a few seconds later.
Chapman returned to the Reds for the first time since being struck in the head by a line drive on March 19 during a Spring Training game, and his comeback performance was as memorable as his entrance. Chapman fired fastballs of over 100 mph, struck out three consecutive batters after a leadoff walk and preserved a Reds’ 4-1 win over the Rockies.
“My favorite pitch was the third strike to the last guy,” Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “My second-favorite was the first strike he threw. I thought about how far he had come back. It was something really cool to be a part of.”
Chapman’s first pitch was a 100-mph fastball that Troy Tulowitzki watched for a called strike. Tulowitzki went on to draw a walk, but Chapman put away Carlos Gonzalez on three pitches, then struck out Nolan Arenado and Justin Morneau swinging to end the game.
His fastball velocity ranged from 99-102 mph, and Chapman kept the hitters off balance by mixing in a few of his nasty sliders.
“I had a lot of emotion going,” Chapman said vis translator. “I was happy I was able to control myself and to be able to work without any distraction.”
“He was pitching with heart and determination,” Reds third baseman Todd Frazier said.
The 26-year-old left-hander threw 21 pitches, 14 for strikes.
Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said he had planned to use Chapman in the ninth inning if the situation presented itself.
“He will still pitch in the eighth inning at times,” Price said.
Price also said he was not worried about Chapman’s struggles during his final two Minor League rehab outings.
“Maybe somebody else was worried about it, but not me,” Chapman said.
Man, it’s great to have him back, it’s amazing how far he had to work to come back so soon, he exceeded my expectations, I thought he was going to return in mid June, he’s back on the first week of May, simply remarkable.