CLEVELAND -- Aroldis Chapman said that there were no flashbacks as he ascended the mound at Progressive Field on Saturday evening, marking his first time back since blowing the save and earning the win for the Cubs in the deciding Game 7 of last year's World Series, but the Indians once again did not make things easy for the closer.
On the same diamond where Rajai Davis' game-tying homer put the Cubs' title in jeopardy last November, Chapman pounded his glove as Brett Gardner made a leaping catch at the left-field wall and Ronald Torreyes contributed a diving grab, helping to preserve the Yankees' 2-1 victory.
"The defense behind me was really, really good," Chapman said through an interpreter. "I think it was just the motivation and the fight to win. We'd lost [four] games in a row, and it showed what kind of character this team has, the desire to win the game there."
Chapman fired 21 pitches without a swinging strike to record his 14th save, showing some love to the Yanks' gloves. Michael Brantley opened the ninth with a single, and Jose Ramirez launched an 89.5-mph slider deep to send Gardner racing to the warning track, where he secured the drive with a leap.
"It's a big relief," Gardner said. "Off the bat, I don't think anybody was sure what was going to happen. It's a big relief to haul it in and get the ball back in and get the first out of that inning, especially after you got the leadoff single."
Even Chapman thought Ramirez's drive would hit the wall, calling Gardner's grab the key to the inning. Edwin Encarnacion then punched a 3-2 fastball for a popup into shallow right field that Torreyes raced to snare with a diving grab, prompting a row of fist-pumps in the visitors' dugout.
"The Indians are really good for a lot of different reasons, but they're going to put tough at-bats on you the whole night," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They put them on Chappy and they saw plenty of Chappy last year. He did a tremendous job. A very nice play by Gardner, a very nice play by Torreyes."
Chapman made five appearances and worked 7 2/3 innings in last year's Fall Classic, so the Indians did not require much of a refresher in their pre-series scouting meeting.
"I feel like he's still fresh in our minds," Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes said. "I think we kind of know what he's going to bring. We do a pretty good job in the eighth and ninth inning to try to rally something up together and give us a chance to win some ballgames."
The final out saw Chapman in a nine-pitch battle with Carlos Santana that included a well-hit drive down the right-field line that smacked the green padding of the wall above the 325-foot sign. Chapman said that he knew the angle of the ball was heading foul, and he had the confidence to throw Santana an 87.9-mph slider that ended the game on a called third strike.
"The slider is sharper now," Chapman said. "He fouled off a couple of fastballs. I wanted to change it up. ... Definitely, a game like this, we can feed off of it. The guys really, really wanted to win this game, especially a tight game like that. Everyone's feeling good in here right now."