Whether it’s the latest surge or decline in prices at the gas pump, realizing that you are running late when you glance at your watch, or any number of everyday moments, numbers have an undeniable impact on our emotions.
Last night, at Wrigley Field, the 34,000-plus fans who came out to watch the Chicago Cubs host the Cincinnati Reds had a collective experience with numbers that was as memorable as anything I have ever encountered at a sports event.
It occurred in the 8th inning, with the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman on the mound.
Since breaking into the Major Leagues in 2010, this 6-foot-4, 215-pound Cuban has astounded observers—and confounded hitters—with a fastball that has been tracked as high as 105, even 106, miles per hour. In the history of the game, it has been rare for anyone to reach 100 mph, so any additional fraction of 1 mph, let alone a full 1 mph, is captivating.
My 12-year-old son was excited at the prospect of seeing Chapman in action because he had only seen him in photographs to that point. So when the Cubs got a few guys on base in the 8th, I told him to check out Chapman as he warmed up not far from us along the first-base line. Zach’s eyes popped open wide as he witnessed the arm-loosening activity, which probably meant pitches in the mid-90s.
Once in the game, Chapman’s first few pitches clocked in at a “pedestrian” 99 mph, according to the gigantic scoreboard that popped up behind the left field bleachers at Wrigley this season. But that was only an extension of his warm-up: the next pitch drew gasps twice—a slight one when he threw the ball and a much louder exhalation a few seconds later when the registered speed flashed onto the screen: 102.
I believe part of the mystique and aura around 100 mph-plus pitches is that they are triple digits. Although only slightly faster more than other elite fastballs—and roughly 10 percent faster than a typical Major League fastball—the visual effect is more dramatic: anything that is 100 or more contains 50% more digits than anything 99 or lower.
It’s the opposite effect of those 99-cent coffee and other massively advertised specials that we see all the time: by having only two digits, we perceive the value to be disproportionately greater than if those items were a mere penny or nickel more expensive.
Back to Chapman and his cannon of a left arm on the Wrigley mound: his next pitch, after the 102 mph mind-boggler, came in even faster: it was either 103 or 104. The moment is hazy, and I think it was 103 mph, but my brain sort of short-circuited, apparently, and I can’t vouch 100 percent for that figure.
Cubs third baseman Tommy La Stella, a recent call-up from Triple A Iowa, was the lucky soul at the plate when Chapman entered. La Stella fouled off the 102 mph blur, and later fouled another pitch before striking out. All in all, and in all seriousness, it was a rather impressive five-pitch at-bat for La Stella, worthy of sharing with his grandchildren someday.
The inning ended when the Cubs attempted a double-steal of second and third base, with Kris Bryant getting tossed out at second—understandable when considering how little time elapsed between the ball leaving Chapman’s hand and arriving in catcher Tucker Barnhart’s mitt.
Cincinnati blew open the game with six unearned runs with two outs in the top of the 9th inning, and my son and I headed for the exit without witnessing Chapman give up a home run to Cubs rookie Addison Russell in the anti-climactic final frame. (If ever there was a sign that Russell is the Cubs’ shortstop until further notice, that wallop may be it.)
Unsurprisingly, Chapman also struck out two more batters in that inning. And, undoubtedly, drew thousands of “oohs” and “aahs” in the process–particularly if his pitched continued topping 100 mph.