- Associated Press
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

CINCINNATI (AP) - Left-hander Aroldis Chapman made his big leg kick and let one fly. Flashes went off around the ballpark. The crowd let out a collective “ooh” when the ball slammed loudly into Ryan Hanigan’s mitt.

And that was just his first warmup.

What came next was almost too fast to follow.

The Cuban defector made a big-league debut that opened a lot of eyes around the majors _ especially on teams thinking they might face the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs.

Chapman pitched a perfect inning, twice hitting 102 mph on the radar gun, during an 8-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night.

“I don’t think it can get any better than this,” closer Francisco Cordero said.

Not much faster, anyway. As introductions go, this one sizzled.

“Aw, that was a wonderful debut,” manager Dusty Baker said. “People expected it, and they got what they heard about and read about.”

They’ll be talking about this one for some time.

The 22-year-old Cuban defected 13 months ago, deciding to take his triple-digit pitch to the majors. He signed a six-year, $30.25 million deal with Cincinnati in January, then set out to try to win a spot in the rotation during spring training.

He wasn’t ready. Chapman started the season at Triple-A Louisville and struggled with his control. Last month, the Reds were in a pennant race and decided to see if Chapman could become something special out of the bullpen.

Everyone can see the answer.

“He’s special,” Baker said.

His fastball was an urban legend even before he arrived. Chapman was clocked at 101 mph during spring training by major league scouts. When he moved into the bullpen, he was able to throw even harder. The radar gun in Louisville clocked one of his pitches at 105 mph.

Could he light it up in the big leagues?

The first time out, he sure did.

Chapman got a standing ovation from the crowd of 19,218 when he jogged out of the bullpen to pitch the top of the eighth with the Reds leading 8-3. Fans let out a collective “ooh” after each warmup throw. There was a buzz in the small crowd _ contrary to one fans’ sign, there’s no Chapmania yet.

“Of course I was nervous,” he said, through a translator.

His first pitch to Jonathan Lucroy registered 98 mph. The third one hit 102 mph, drawing a loud cheer. He fanned Lucroy on a nasty 86 mph slider.

The next two batters _ Craig Counsell and pinch-hitter Carlos Gomez _ went down on weak grounders. Chapman threw only eight pitches, half of them registering 100 mph or better. Two were clocked at 102.

He walked off the field to another standing ovation.

Those who saw him do it at Louisville weren’t at all surprised.

“There’s not a whole lot of guys like him, if any,” said Sam LeCure (2-4), who got the victory with two innings in relief before Chapman took the mound.

After a moment’s pause, LeCure said, “There’s none.”

When he was at Louisville, his teammates marveled at his fastball. They’d sneak a look at the board in right-center field that showed the pitch’s speed.

“Every time he lets one go, everybody turns around or peeks,” second baseman Chris Valaika said. “You don’t want to get caught looking, but you see 104 _ that’s something you’ve never seen before.”

Now, big-league hitters know what they’re up against.

“I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” Lucroy said. “He is very deceptive. He kind of hides the ball. It’s tough.”

The Reds brought him up before Sept. 1 to make sure he would be eligible for postseason play. Cincinnati has pulled away in the NL Central, opening a seven-game lead over St. Louis by going 19-8 in August, the best record in the majors during the month.

Chapman will get the chance to do what left-hander David Price did for Tampa Bay two years ago, when the highly valued starter got a chance to relieve during a pennant race.

The Rays called him up in September _ he was eligible for postseason play because of a loophole in the rules _ and he helped them get to the World Series, where they lost to Philadelphia.

There’s another precedent. In 2002, the Angels called up Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez in September, got him on the postseason roster and let him take them to their first World Series title. He tied a postseason record with five wins, set a relief record with 28 playoffs strikeouts, and at age 20 became the youngest pitcher ever to win a World Series game.

Could Chapman bring some September sizzle to Cincinnati?

“You don’t know how it’s going to end up,” Baker said.

Chapman? He’s thinking beyond September.

“It’s a big thing for me,” Chapman said. “Being able to come up and pitch not only here, but to pitch for the Reds in the playoffs would be something great for me, to keep going with the team and someday get an opportunity to win it all.”

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