CINCINNATI, OH: Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the game against the Cleveland Indians at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Wednesday night, Aroldis Chapman surrendered a remarkable home run to Jose Lopez. You didn't notice, for good reason, but now you are noticing.
Wednesday turned out to be a pretty special day for Major League Baseball. Matt Cain threw the first perfect game in Giants history against the Astros, with both Cain and Gregor Blanco carving their names into Giants lore. R.A. Dickey came an infield hit away from no-hitting the Rays, and he set a new Mets franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings. Lance Lynn absolutely obliterated the White Sox, winning his tenth game in his 13th start. And Jose Lopez hit a solo home run with two outs in the ninth inning to turn a 5-2 game into a 5-3 game.
Maybe you didn't notice that last one while everything else was going on. It was a meaningless dinger hit by a relatively insignificant player, and it came on this pitch in a 2-and-1 count:
Pitch right down the very middle, okay. Not all pitches right down the very middle get hit for home runs, but many of them do, such that home runs on pitches right down the very middle aren't ordinarily worth talking about. There is literally no worse place to throw a pitch, save for at the opposing batter. But now let's scroll down a little in the Gameday window:
Well would you look at that. We have two remarkable things:
(1) Aroldis Chapman
(2) 100 miles per hour. 100.2 miles per hour, to be precise.
Aroldis Chapman had allowed home runs before. Two of them, in 2011, one to Albert Pujols and one to Luke Scott. He had not yet allowed a home run in 2012 since taking a performance leap forward. Additionally, he had not yet allowed a home run on a pitch this fast, and Chapman throws a lot of pitches this fast or faster. The batter was Jose Lopez and not Giancarlo Stanton or someone amazing or even good.
To make it all the more improbable, the home run was pulled. Earlier this season, Tyler Greene homered off an Andrew Cashner fastball at 101 miles per hour, but he hit it to the opposite side of center field. Jose Lopez got around on this pitch, and this pitch was a fastball at 100.2 miles per hour. In fairness, this was the second-least-pulled home run of Lopez's career since 2007, since he pulls almost literally all of his home runs down the left-field line. But Aroldis Chapman threw Jose Lopez a triple-digit fastball, and Lopez pulled it out of the park.
The difference between 100 miles per hour and 99 miles per hour is slim, as is the difference between 99 and 98, and 98 and 97. This wouldn't feel quite so significant had Chapman thrown a fastball as fast as his body temperature, even though that would've hardly been slower. But feelings are feelings, and we feel them, and 100 feels important, so in further recognition of this moment, I present to you four individual reactions to the homer.
This is what disbelief looks like. At this moment, Aroldis Chapman is probably literally thinking "I can't believe this," or "I can't believe this" in Spanish. He was already feeling a little vulnerable -- he'd allowed runs in his previous two appearances after not allowing (earned) runs in his first 24 appearances -- but you feel a lot more vulnerable when you give up a home run to just some guy when you throw the ball a hundred miles per hour. "What is going on right now?" Chapman might have thought, also in Spanish. Not really anything, you're awesome, you'll be fine and not completely perfect.
Lopez knew exactly what he'd done. Maybe not exactly, but for a comparison, here's Lopez after hitting his previous home run, a clutch three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth to tie a game:
When he's on a baseball field, Lopez usually wears this expression like he's a step behind everybody else. Wednesday night, Lopez was a step ahead of Aroldis Chapman, which is an extraordinarily difficult thing to be. There are routine good moments in baseball games, that you celebrate in routine fashion, and this was not one of them, so Lopez showed a little humanity.
Hanigan: fastball up
Hanigan: fastball up
Hanigan: fastball up
Hanigan: aww f***
Hanigan: do you see what happens when you throw 100 down the middle?
Front Row Reds Fan is clapping in anticipation of the end of the game. He stops clapping as the pitch is delivered, and then separates his hands so as to resume clapping after Lopez swings. He anticipates that the swing could lead to the end of the game. It doesn't, and Front Row Reds Fan slowly clasps his hands back together, leaving a celebratory clap unclapped. What would that clap have been like? Would it have been the best clap of his life? A solid clap, palm on palm, no interference from fingers, audible above the din of all the others? Front Row Reds Fan will never know. He could clap again a minute later, after Shin-Soo Choo flew out, but the initial clap wasn't the same. It couldn't be. All claps are snowflakes, and the unclapped clap melted on descent.
Wednesday was a big day for baseball. Around the league, there were achievements unimaginable. Some drew more recognition, but all were rare gems. I don't know which we'll see again sooner: a perfect game, or a triple-digit fastball from Aroldis Chapman getting pulled for a homer. I honestly don't know.