Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the book "Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon" by Jesse Rogers and Bill Chastain.
ALL OF JOE MADDON'S EXPERIENCES as a coach and manager would be put to the test in Games 6 and 7 of the 2016 World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Little did he know at the time, but his decisions the next two days would have a profound effect on the outcome. And though he would be the man to lead the team known as the "Lovable Losers" to their first championship in 108 years, he would face an offseason of questions and criticisms about those moves.
The questions would all revolve around his pitching decisions, mostly as they concerned closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman had thrown 42 pitches in Game 5, normally knocking him out of commission for several days, if not for this being the World Series. Chapman did have a day off between Games 5 and 6 and declared himself ready for whatever was to come. Maddon would lean on him again for the final two games, leading to a lot of raised eyebrows.
Though Game 7 would receive the most attention, it was Maddon's Game 6 decisions which created his dilemma that was to come. Leading 7-2 in Game 6, he brought Chapman into the game in the seventh inning. It was hardly a save situation, and considering the closer's Game 5 workload, many were left wondering if it was the right move.
"It was the middle of their batting order," Maddon explained afterward. "There was just no other way to look at that and feel good, man. That could have been the ballgame right there. I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly."
Chapman entered with two men on base, two outs and the dangerous Francisco Lindor up. He induced a groundout from Lindor, ending Cleveland's threat, but not Chapman's night. Maddon would further explain he much preferred Chapman pitching with a cushion against the Indians' top hitters than later, in potentially a closer game. If another reliever had messed up, Chapman would be called upon with much less margin for error with potentially less then elite stuff considering the recent workload. Maddon preferred Chapman with a little breathing room. There was some sound thinking in that decision perhaps based on something which occurred about eight years earlier.
In 2008, Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays team was playing the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, ironically led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. It was Thursday, October 16, 2008. The Rays got out to a 7-0 lead only to see Boston score eight runs in the final three innings to stun Maddon and his team with an 8-7 victory. Maddon didn't have a Chapman to turn to, but he knew the idea of holding on to a big lead in the playoffs wasn't as simple as hoping the other team doesn't rally. He wanted to be proactive.
"That was a really tough day," Maddon said in recalling that game. "It reminded me that nothing is over until that last out is made, especially in the postseason. It's definitely different than the regular season. There is no next game. I know people have a hard time when I remind them of that. If you blow the lead because you don't use [whoever] then you're heavily criticized for that. But it's not about being heavily criticized. It's about being proactive and seeing things before they happen." So eight years later, Chapman got out of the seventh inning, then went to the mound to pitch the eighth inning of Game 6 of the World Series with the score still 7-2. Maddon wasn't about to use up his best pitcher for one out, with two innings to go, no matter what the pitcher did two days earlier. Chapman set the Indians down in order in the eighth, using a total of 15 pitches between the two innings. The Cubs were one inning away from forcing a do-or-die Game 7.
When Anthony Rizzo homered in the top of the ninth inning, giving the Cubs a 9-2 lead, it felt like Maddon had made all the right moves. He used Chapman before the game got close, allowing his offense a chance to extend the lead. It worked. And now was the time to get Chapman out. Maddon knew it, his bosses knew it, millions watching around the world knew it. The Cubs had one more game to play, and they might need their closer one last time. After 57 pitches over the course of the last two games -- plus a seven-run lead -- it was time.
Except it didn't happen.
There was no one ready in the bullpen. In fact, it wasn't until Ben Zobrist walked, after Rizzo hit his home run, that the bullpen got moving. Pedro Strop began to warm up in a hurry, but the inning ended too quickly, after Addison Russell grounded out, meaning Chapman would have to start the ninth. He would eventually come out, in favor of Strop, but only after walking the leadoff hitter on five pitches, not including his warm-ups that inning. There was only one person to blame for the blunder.
"Yeah, it was all me," Maddon said. "I had it in my head. When I put Chappy [Chapman] in the game to begin with, first of all, it was against Lindor, and I thought there's no other way to do this because if they get back in it -- I've had bad games in Cleveland before -- we had to put him in there. I wanted Lindor right-handed, etc., so we put him [Chapman] in the game there. And I also had told myself, actually before the game, is that if you get a big lead and you have to use him early, make sure you get somebody up and get him out. So I had it in my mind to do that, and I just didn't say it to [pitching coach] Chris Bosio in time."
Would that decision come back to haunt Maddon the next night? After all, it was only five extra pitches and a few easy warm-ups. But combined with his stint on Wednesday, Chapman had thrown 62 pitches, way more than he had in any back-to-back outings all season.
"I feel blessed that I'm just healthy to pitch in this situation," Chapman said after Game 6. "This is [why] the Cubs brought me over."
It's the one move Maddon regretted. How could he forget to get a pitcher up?
"Because you're thinking about so many things offensively, and you get through the moment [the home run] you wanted to get through, and I'm thinking to myself, 'If we score right here, you have to get him out.' So I'm thinking then, 'Inning's over, inning's over.' And I'm waiting, waiting, I said, 'Get Stropy up.' And I just said it too late."
This excerpt from "Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon" by Bill Chastain and Jesse Rogers is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/TryNotToSuck.