NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cuban closer Aroldis Chapman is renowned for his breakneck fastball yet New York Yankees fans were forced to wait a month to witness his explosive pace before he made a winning debut on Monday after serving a suspension for a domestic abuse incident.
Entering the game in the ninth with a 6-2 lead over the World Series champion Kansas City Royals, Chapman was cheered by the Yankee Stadium crowd and delivered seven pitches at 100 mph (160 kph) or more to the delight of the fans.
The “Cuban Missile” struck out the first two batters before pinch-hitter Paulo Orlando doubled deep to center and scored on a single by Alcides Escobar to make it 6-3 before the left-hander retired Lorenzo Cain on a ground out to end the game.
“I felt good out there, for being my first outing in a while,” Chapman said at his locker through a translator. “I thought it was pretty good.”
Manager Joe Girardi was relieved that Chapman, acquired in the offseason in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, did not overthrow in an attempt to please his new audience.
“I was glad he threw strikes,” Girardi said. “I figured there would be a lot of adrenalin, waiting an extra month to play and I think he did just fine.”
MLB punished Chapman after it independently investigated an Oct. 30 incident in which the Cuban’s girlfriend told police he pushed and choked her and later allegedly fired shots from a handgun into his garage wall and window out of frustration.
No charges were filed but MLB determined that Chapman violated the league’s domestic violence policy and handed down a 30-game suspension, which the pitcher accepted without appeal.
Chapman was delighted by his reception on Monday.
“I was very excited and happy to see the fans receive me the way they did,” he said.
Asked if he was nervous about how fans would react to him, Chapman said: “A lot of people have been asking me about that, but after the reaction that I got tonight, it was incredible.”
Girardi said it was not only the fans that got excited by the speed of Chapman’s pitches.
“He throws hard,” the manager said. “I think we all take a look at the (score)board to see what it is. To see that 101, it’s not something you see every day.”
Editing by John O'Brien