The Rays beat the Yankees, their AL East rivals, on an eighth inning home run to win the ALDS. Tampa Bay advances to play the Astros in the ALCS.
Mike Brosseau took a breath, thought about revenge and swung.
Thirty-nine days earlier, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman had nearly decapitated him with a 101-mph fastball that the Rays felt sure was intentional. The benches cleared. Afterward, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash warned New York that he had “a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 miles an hour.”
Now the two bitter rivals were locked in a tie in the eighth inning of the winner-take-all Game 5 of the American League Division Series. Brosseau stood at the plate. Chapman stood on the mound. Some of their teammates thought back to that moment in September.
That was not the moment for which Brosseau wanted revenge, though. He was thinking of 24 hours earlier, when Chapman whiffed him on a 3–2 fastball for the final out of Game 4 to deliver the Yankees the win.
Brosseau had pinch-hit on Thursday. He pinch-hit again on Friday, and singled in his first at bat. In his second, against Chapman in the eighth, he worked the count to 3–2, then pulled a slider hard but foul. Brosseau knew he was right on that pitch, and he knew Chapman knew that too. He decided that Chapman wouldn’t throw him another slider. Better look for that fastball. Try to get the barrel out in front, he thought. The ninth pitch of the at bat was a 99-mph fastball. He fouled it straight back. The 10th was a 100-mph fastball. It was the hardest pitch hit for a home run in 2020.
Brosseau’s teammates were out of the dugout before the ball landed in the empty left field stands. Righty Diego Castillo, pitching for the third time in the series, shut down the Yankees in the top of the ninth. The Rays won 2–1. They will play the Astros in the American League Championship Series starting on Sunday.
“Sports,” mused starter Tyler Glasnow after the game. “Just—always—I don’t—that was very, like, storybook. It was crazy. Just to go up there and have that long of an at bat and battle that long, and—just—for all the history we’ve had—especially Brosseau, for him to go up and hit a bomb off Chapman is—that’s just—you can’t even—I don’t know. That’s just nuts. I still can’t even comprehend it, as you can see.”
The Rays celebrated as wildly as one can amid pandemic restrictions, smoking cigars and blasting Frank Sinatra’s “Theme From New York, New York” and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” on the field. The clubhouse was even more chaotic. “A lot of emotion,” Glasnow reported. “A lot of yelling and a lot of sounds I’ve never heard grown men make. A lot of confetti.”
The win felt, to them, like the perfect encapsulation of the team that captured it. Glasnow, the underachieving starter Tampa Bay acquired from the Pirates in 2018 and promptly turned into an ace, started on two days’ rest. He threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings and then handed the ball to Nick Anderson, the closer, who allowed one run in 2 2/3 frames. “I like to adapt,” Anderson said afterward. Next came righty Pete Fairbanks, who appeared almost catatonic with anxiety in Game 1, walking the first two men he faced and going to 3–1 on the third. But manager Kevin Cash had built his confidence in the regular season by sticking with him, and Cash stuck with him there. “I asked him not to do it again,” Cash said after that game. Fairbanks threw two scoreless innings. Last came Castillo, the Dominican who was not signed until he was 20, ancient by the island’s standards. “The [stable doors] were open,” said Fairbanks, “And the horses were running.”
Meanwhile, right fielder Austin Meadows, who came to Tampa with Glasnow, hit a home run in fifth to tie the game at 1–1. And then Brosseau, who went undrafted in 2016, untied it.
Brosseau has occasionally tired of hearing about his backstory: 1,216 players chosen that year, and no call for the Oakland University shortstop with the .456 on-base percentage. The Rays phoned the next day and offered him $1,000 and a spot on their rookie-league team. He was in High A a year later and Double A a year after that, and then last season in the majors.
“I want to live in the present,” he said earlier this week. “The story’s cool, though, so I get it. I’m really proud of my story. But a lot of people think if you make it to the big leagues as an undrafted guy, you’re already done. You did what most people can’t do. The mentality I have is: Put that backstory in the past and worry about now.”
Now he and the Rays will play for the pennant.
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