It's hard for me to put into words how utterly impressive Rafael Devers' at bat against Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning of Sunday night's game was, but I'm going to try because it was the single most impressive feat I've seen on a baseball diamond all season. Here's why:
Devers stepped up to the plate after Hanley Ramirez — a professional, seasoned hitter (albeit struggling a bit) — was completely overwhelmed by three Chapman fastballs. Ramirez is 33 and a multi-time all-star. Devers is 20 and has played 24 games above the AA level in his life. He wasn't even legally able to drink a celebratory beer after the game.
We had just watched, in the inning before, Matt Barnes succumb to the massive pressures of playing in Yankee stadium in an August pennant race to the point he could hardly throw a strike. Had Devers not come through, Barnes would be the scapegoat for last night's loss.
Aaron (bleeping) Boone starts the inning off by acknowledging Chapman's struggles of late, but says, "The one thing he's done well this year... no home runs allowed."
Chapman clearly has it, and as Hanley knows (now career 0-7, four Ks against him), that usually spells the end of the game. Ramirez strikes out on a third consecutive 100+ mph fastball at the top of the zone as he wobbles after swinging with his eyes closed. No chance.
Then Devers steps up and watches 103 on the inside corner — you almost feel bad for him. He comes into the at-bat after a pinch-hit strikeout in the sixth inning and it seems like this could be a learning experience for the rookie. A welcome to the bigs type of moment.
But then you get the sense he's up there to do a little more than take his medicine and walk back to the dugout. Chapman comes back with 103 as Devers times it up. He gets his toe tap down and begins to swing the bat, but checks his swing as he's able to lay off a pitch barely off the plate.
OK, here we go.
Chapman still has the command he wants, and he's not looking to throw anything other than heat. His 1-1 pitch is a fastball up, knowing he can bait the rookie into swinging at something outside the zone. Devers takes a massive hack and actually times up 102, fouling it into the catcher's mitt. Unfortunately, the pitch is a little too high to square up and the count falls to 1-2.
Boone: "You can tell he's feeling good tonight... tonight he's really on point with all his pitches in what is a huge game in the middle of August."
Chapman has that look — rightfully. The smug, angry combination that leads you to believe he thinks he can throw this next pitch anywhere and he'll get the K. His stuff is overpowering and his demeanor only accentuates that perception.
Then it happens.
Chapman locates 103 up — maybe a tad too far in the middle for his liking, but certainly nothing worth seriously scolding. Throwing 103 makes it affordable to miss by a few inches. Devers shortens up his swing (!), not offering the expected "all-or-nothing" Hanley-esque swing that you'd expect from a power-heavy rookie. This is no blind luck, nor some upper-cut fluke: He's just looking to hit a line drive somewhere. He's not looking to pull the ball, he's just trying to hit the ball hard.
And he does. Devers squares up the pitch on the inner half and crushes it the other way. The announcing team goes silent for just about four seconds; the ball is basically over the wall before Shulman can even muster a "fly ball." And the way he says "Devers has hit it out" mixes the confusion, adulation, exuberance, and pandemonium that we all feel.
My raw reaction: laughter.
There are a lot of things about baseball that get old — the blame that gets thrown around when they lose, the mentality of a fanbase and media that thinks that managing a baseball team is easy, the politics of the team, everything related to David Price off the field, etc.
But watching Devers sprint around the bases while holding back a smile and fist-pumping won't ever get old. That's why I watch baseball.
(The look of shame on Chapman's face won't get old either)
103 in, 105 out. 423 feet. Opposite field. Off Chapman. Two strikes. To tie the game in the ninth. In Yankee stadium.
The pitch was officially registered at 102.8 miles per hour, the fastest pitch hit for a home run in the Statcast era. It was just the second home run Chapman has ever allowed to a left-handed hitter, and the first since 2011.
Did I mention he's 20?
I'm not usually into hyperbole. Devers will go through his struggles like nearly every young player does. Devers was the fourth youngest player in the Double-A Eastern League (per Speier), and teams will figure out ways to pitch to him that he'll have to adjust to. But last night's at-bat — not even just the home run, the entire at-bat — is the clearest sign that Rafael Devers is going to be a very special player for a very long time.