Brosseau’s Heroic Blast Guides Rays Past Yankees

There are stories athletes must tell themselves to kick in an extra gear of motivation totally foreign to many of us. To feed the adrenaline that needs to flow through your body in order to square up a fastball thrown at 100 miles per hour. They are stories about the athlete being under attack; by a public that doesn’t believe in them, by the media that unfairly targets them, by the rival who has crossed and provoked them. Some of those stories are completely true, others less so — most people probably expect professional baseball players to do well, and the grudges they hold may be ones we aren’t aware of.

Everyone, however, was aware of the grudge between Mike Brosseau and Aroldis Chapman. The heater Chapman threw at Brosseau — who dodged it at the very last moment with mere inches to spare — has been replayed and analyzed since it caused the benches to clear during an otherwise quiet game on September 1, and served to ratchet up a tense division rivalry. So when Brosseau came up to bat against Chapman with the game tied in the bottom of the eighth of Friday’s do-or-die ALDS Game 5, the idea of the at-bat deciding both team’s seasons was simultaneously far-fetched and a narrative far too convenient.

Ten pitches later, Brosseau’s swing made the far-fetched reality. That terrifying fastball darted not toward his head, but over the inside corner of the plate, and Brosseau snuck the barrel of his bat through the zone just hard enough to send the ball over the Petco Park fence, and the Rays’ dugout into pandemonium. It was the go-ahead run the Rays needed to defeat the Yankees, 2-1, and punch their ticket to the ALCS.

The Rays will face the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS on Sunday at 7:37 p.m. EST.

It was no accident that Brosseau got his chance against Chapman. A destroyer of left-handed pitching in his young major-league career (he owns a .313/.350/.589 career slash line against southpaws, compared to a .255/.336/.406 line against righties), he began the game on the bench with the Yankees’ right-handed ace Gerrit Cole getting the start. But when the Yankees relieved Cole with the left-handed Zack Britton in the sixth, Brosseau was called upon to replace first baseman Ji-Man Choi at the plate, and immediately justified his manager’s move with a first-pitch single.

Combined with his homer, Brosseau finished with two of the Rays’ three hits. That doesn’t reflect particularly well on his teammates, but if you’d ask them, they’d likely tell you they wouldn’t wish the spotlight on anyone else. Brosseau has become one of the most popular players in his own clubhouse, for several reasons. He has an impressive origin story, working his way from an undrafted free agent out of Oakland University to the big league roster just three years later, and has a personality that’s said to be a great influence on other players. He’s also been known to stand out when the moment calls for it — the day after he was nearly drilled by Chapman, he hit two homers against the Yankees, leading his club to a 5-2 victory.

The fact that he was able to influence Friday’s pivotal game so much with one swing, however, was because the pitching outside of his two at-bats was downright phenomenal. The Rays made the somewhat surprising decision to start Tyler Glasnow, not Blake Snell. Glasnow was working on just two days’ rest as opposed to Snell’s three, and they’d fared about the same in their first starts of the series — Glasnow going five innings and allowing four runs on three hits, three walks, and two homers in Game 2, and Snell allowing four runs on six hits, two walks and three homers in Game 1. The difference between the two pitchers was in their strikeout numbers: Snell fanned just four in his turn against the Yankees, while Glasnow waved 10.

That bat-missing ability helped pave the way for Glasnow to start Game 5, and though he reportedly told his manager he was good to throw 150 pitches, Kevin Cash understandably had a different plan. Glasnow was efficient in the first inning, retiring the side in order on just eight pitches, then allowing just one walk in a scoreless second. He issued another walk to Brett Gardner to start the third, and after just over 30 pitches, was already beginning to show some cracks in his command. He got the nine-hitter Kyle Higashioka to look at strike three, then gave way to Nick Anderson, who was brought in to handle the second trip through New York’s lineup.

Anderson quickly got out of trouble in the third by inducing a double play from DJ LeMahieu, but Rays fans didn’t get to relax for long. First up in the fourth was Aaron Judge, who after seeing a first-pitch curveball miss the zone, got a fastball out over the plate. During the regular season, Anderson allowed just a .194 slugging percentage in at-bats ending on his fastball. His expected slugging percentage allowed, however, was .467. Anderson also allowed a 72.4% fly ball rate this season, the highest in baseball, but just a 4.8% HR/FB rate. Anderson, while clearly one of the best relievers in baseball right now, got just a tad lucky this year.

Nick Anderson, meet regression:

Fortunately for Tampa Bay, the lights-out Anderson the team has come to expect returned after that. He retired the next three hitters in order to end the fourth, then worked around a Gleyber Torres single to work a scoreless fifth. Despite their starter only lasting seven outs, the Rays were able to get through five innings having only seen the Yankees’ order twice, using only two pitchers, and allowing just one run.

While the Rays had a few options with how to approach their Game 5 pitching plan, New York’s choice was obvious. Cole, the ace signed for well over $300 million last winter, had been acquired for exactly this kind of assignment. He’d been impressive in his first start of the series, allowing just three runs in six innings while striking out eight in Game 1. He’d also dominated the Rays in two postseason starts while with Houston in 2019, allowing one run on six hits in 15.2 innings and striking out 25. The fact that his start would come on short rest gave him and his team zero apprehension — the Yankees’ season was on the line, and there was no pitcher on earth they felt more comfortable turning to.

Cole pushed the limits of that comfort early. After a three-pitch strikeout of leadoff hitter Austin Meadows, he walked Brandon Lowe and plunked Randy Arozarena with a fastball to the elbow pad. Those two runners advanced on a weak grounder to second, then were joined by Yandy Díaz, who worked Cole’s second free pass of the inning. After falling behind Joey Wendle 3-0, however, Cole came back with three straight strikes to retire the Rays’ third baseman looking and end the threat.

For the next few frames, Tampa Bay struggled to mount another one. Of the next 12 hitters to face Cole, just one reached base, that coming on an error by Torres on a grounder to his right. Seven of them, meanwhile, were retired on strikes.

Cole’s entire outing was a showcase of his infamous stuff. Just two innings into the evening, he’d already registered nine whiffs. From there, the Rays got better at fouling pitches away and lengthening at-bats, but even then, there was little solid contact to be had. Of the 35 swings Tampa Bay hitters took against fastballs, sliders and changeups from Cole, just three resulted in a ball in play.

One of those, however, was a big one. With two outs in the fifth, Meadows stepped to the plate for a third time against Cole. A 1-1 fastball caught too much of the plate, and a robbery attempt by Judge caught too much of the wall:

Cole faced two more hitters, but when a pitch to Arozarena came dangerously close to leaving the yard, New York manager Aaron Boone moved to his bullpen. Britton put two men on after relieving Cole in the sixth, but worked his way out of trouble. He pitched two outs into the seventh before Boone turned to Chapman.

The Rays bullpen, meanwhile, continued to work two innings at a time. Pete Fairbanks threw scoreless frames in the sixth and seventh, striking out three and throwing 40 pitches. Diego Castillo was then called upon for the eighth and, after Brosseau’s home run in the bottom of the frame, closed things down with a perfect ninth.

For the Yankees, it’s difficult to view this series loss as anything but disappointing. The franchise that stood up as baseball’s most consistent superpower for a century has had to watch other super teams pop up in recent seasons, in Los Angeles, Houston and Boston. Even the Chicago Cubs managed to look unstoppable for a little while. New York just hasn’t kept up, even as its player development system has become one of the best in the game and the budget for player salary has remained as high as ever. In the 11 seasons since their last championship, the Yankees have advanced to the ALCS just four times, and haven’t gotten back to the World Series.

This year’s New York team certainly had the firepower to cast aside the last decade’s shortcomings, but ultimately ran into a Tampa Bay team that always seemed at least as good as the Yankees, and often appeared to be better. The Rays won seven of the 10 matchups between the two sides in the regular season, and found a way to slow down New York’s lineup in a way others couldn’t. Giancarlo Stanton hit his share of towering homers in this series, and he received a good amount of help from teammates Aaron Hicks, Torres and Higashioka. But others never got going — Judge, Luke Voit and Gio Urshela combined to hit just 7-for-58 in the series, while LeMahieu only contributed six singles. There were questionable decisions by Boone, and there were pitching performances that fell short. But more than that, it seemed the Yankees ran into a team that was simply better — something that shouldn’t be a surprise, since the Rays topped them for the AL East division crown and were the No. 1 seed entering the postseason, but feels a bit like one anyway.

Tampa Bay is certainly good enough to advance to the World Series, but it must first get through the Astros — a team with no shortage of stories to tell, both to themselves and the world around them. After being the center of the sport’s biggest scandal in recent memory, the Astros have adopted full villain status as they’ve cruised through playoff series victories over the Twins and A’s. They’ve chastised the public for not believing in them despite their four consecutive ALCS appearances, or maybe because of their 29-31 regular season record, which made them the first AL team in history to make the playoffs with a losing record. They have relished in the face that they are the last team anyone wants to watch succeed this year. They have no doubt committed to memory every word said about them, publicly or privately, by every player on Tampa Bay’s roster. They will do this because they are elite athletes, and being an elite athlete means being wired a little differently.

Even better than the stories athletes tell themselves about the potential for vengeance, though, are the stories about vengeance achieved. That’s exactly the kind of story Brosseau gifted everyone on Friday night, though he didn’t dare admit that motivation played any part in this story. When asked by Lauren Shehadi after the game, he insisted his beef with Chapman was in the past. “No revenge,” he told Shehadi after the game. “We put that in the past. We came here to win a series, came here to move on and do what we do best, and that’s play our game.” It was impossible to conceal a smile, however, when asked if he knew he’d hit the game-winner when the ball left his bat.

“I knew it felt good,” Brosseau said. “I knew it felt good.”

Tony is a contributor for FanGraphs. He began writing for Red Reporter in 2016, and has also covered prep sports for the Times West Virginian and college sports for Ohio University's The Post. He can be found on Twitter at @_TonyWolfe_.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Kleinmember
1 year ago

Chapman is easily one of the most dominant relievers we’ve seen in the last decade and maybe ever, and yet he’s given up some of the biggest homers in playoff history with Rajai Davis, and Jose Altuve getting to him before tonight and giving up another one highly memorable one tonight. . You can argue tonight was poetic justice given that Chapman threw at this guys head five weeks ago.

This game was a pleasure to watch, and easily one of the best division series game fives we’ve ever seen and my favorite since another classic one in the the Mets/ Dodgers game 5 in 2015 where Murphy stole third and later scored to tie it and hit a go ahead homer in his next at bat.

I really thought the Rays had very little chance of winning tonight with Glasnow on just two days rest and Cole going for the Yankees even if he was on three days rest. I believe the last time a starter went on two days rest was Derek Lowe in game seven of the ‘04 alcs and he was really good . The Rays really couldn’t hold the Yankees offense down in the series except for tonight when every reliever came up huge for the Rays as every reliever used pitched two innings or more just brilliant work,

Cole was great and I was surprised he was pulled in the sixth but that wasn’t why they lost it was Chapman and the offense that let them down.

I’m already tired of the usual suspects like Bob Raissman and some others in the media(most ESPN types), making comments about how the Rays winning is bad for baseball because the Yankees/Astros series would have drawn big ratings with lots of casual fans checking in, and not nearly as many watching Rays/Astros. I think those that won’t watch are badly missing out on a likely great series, and ratings for everything is down and yet baseball got monstrous tv deals from TBS and fox and likely to get one from ESPN or another network soon. I doubt ESPN talking heads are even allowed to talk about the historically bad ratings the nba finals are drawing. You know as a as a diehard baseball fan I’m looking forward to this series big time.

I never listen to sports talk radio because its just hot take artists spewing complete idiocy, but I might just listen for a couple minutes for laughs when hosts like Michael Kay claim the Yankees lost because they put too much stock in analytics or something like that when the Rays use analytics more than any team other than maybe the Dodgers.

Anyway what a great night of baseball and of baseball and I’m very glad I watched the game.