Until Chapman came along this year, the record for the fastest pitch ever thrown in a big-league game was held by Joel Zumaya, the Tigers reliever who clocked a 104.8 mph fastball in the 2006 American League Championship Series in an at-bat against Oakland's Frank Thomas. Chapman blew by that with a 105.1 in a game less than 2 weeks ago against San Diego. In 1 1/3 innings that evening, not one of the 25 pitches Chapman threw fell below 100 mph.
Someone asked Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker if he thinks there is a point where even skilled big-league hitters would have trouble catching up with a fastball.
Baker could not say.
But he did say this: "Well, there is a point where they have to commit earlier than normal. So therefore you have a tendency to swing at bad pitches . . . There are certain guys in this game that get you out throwing over the speed limit, like Chapman. And there are other guys that throw under the speed limit like [former San Diego pitcher] Randy Jones and [former Atlanta pitcher] Tom Glavine."
The 6-4, 185-pound Chapman was a star pitcher for the Cuban national team before he defected while the team was playing in Rotterdam, Netherlands, during the World Port Tournament in 2009. The Reds signed him to a 6-year, $30.25 million contract in January and he spent the year with the Triple A Louisville Bats. The Reds summoned him to Cincinnati at the end of August. In 15 relief appearances over 13 1/3 innings, he pitched to a 2-2 record with a 2.03 earned run average. He had 19 strikeouts and five walks.
Chapman would not discuss his defection yesterday. But with the aid of an interpreter, he did talk about some of his adjustments to playing baseball in America, the upcoming series with the Phillies, and that incredible arm.
"When I was in Louisville, I think it was easy [to adjust]," said Chapman, a lefthander. "All the players helped me. Also when I came here, same thing . . . I received a lot of help from my teammates. I think they've been OK."
Given the deep lefthanded hitting lineup the Phillies have and the fact they have not seen him up close before, Chapman could be an especially useful component for Baker in the late innings. But Chapman said he did not think that the unfamiliarity that the Phillies have with him will provide an edge.
"In baseball, you have a lot of tools you can use," said Chapman. "You can use video. There are cameras everywhere. The players have a chance to look at you and they can make adjustments."
While Chapman has not faced the Phillies, he is familiar with one of them: As a youngster in Cuba, he was a fan of Phillies veteran reliever Jose Contreras.
"I watched Jose play in Cuba," he said. "I was impressed with the quality of pitches that he had. And I always used to follow him when he was a part of the national team . . . He was the best in Cuba."
Chapman does not anticipate feeling any pressure once the series begins. "There is no reason for me to feel pressure," he said. "If I pitch in the playoffs, it means that the team trusts in what I can do. I will be really proud and happy to do my job."
Baker is unconcerned by the inexperience of some of his players. As he said, "Everybody has had a first time" in the playoffs. He added that he told his team to relax and "pretend it is another game."
He paused and with a smile added, "The key word is 'pretend.' "