SAN DIEGO — Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash called it “the greatest moment” he has been a part of in baseball. Right fielder Austin Meadows said “you can’t script it,” and ace Tyler Glasnow pronounced it a “storybook” ending.
But Mike Brosseau‘s home run Friday against hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman, which gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 5 to win their American League Division Series, might just be poetic justice.
Chapman was given a two-game suspension for hurling a 101 mph fastball near Brosseau’s head on Sept. 1 in what was yet another hostile episode in the newfound American League East rivalry.
The Yankees’ flamethrower has repeatedly said that he never meant to hit Brosseau, but the pitch cleared the benches and continued escalating the animosity between the clubs. Yankees manager Aaron Boone and Cash both served one-game suspensions in the fallout, when the Tampa Bay manager infamously labeled the Rays’ bullpen “a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph.”
Though Chapman’s suspension is still pending and will be served on appeal next season amid some witness-availability issues, Brosseau had the best revenge: victory.
In a 10-pitch at-bat in the eighth inning, the 26-year-old utility man hit a line-drive homer off Chapman’s 100 mph fastball, which decided a hard-fought and tough-pitched Game 5.
“I don’t know if there’s any way to describe that kind of feeling. It’s something I’ll never forget,” Brosseau said. “Nobody here wanted the season to end tonight. Happy to do my part and keep this team together for at least a little bit longer.”
Brosseau was quick to dismiss any allusion that the outcome was more gratifying because it happened against Chapman.
“The revenge aspect, it’s not a thought in my mind. We put it in the past and we moved on. We moved just straight to business,” Brosseau said. “The battle that we’ve had all year with these guys, to go to Game 5 and have such an unbelievably played well-played game, well-executed — you can’t script it any better.”
Everything was lining up in favor of the Yankees on Friday night. They had won Game 4 to force a winner-take-all clash against Tampa Bay, and though he was pitching on short rest, they had their $324 million ace, Gerrit Cole, on the mound.
But the Yankees’ playoff run ended the same way it did a year ago, with a home run off Chapman. During the 2019 AL Championship Series, Houston Astros second baseman José Altuve homered against Chapman in the ninth inning of Game 6, sending Houston to the World Series.
“These situations fall on me. I am the closer. I am the one who is going to finish the game, [whether] winning or losing it,” Chapman said after Friday’s loss. “These things will happen to me in my career. But I am a strong-minded person and I have to move forward after a terrible moment like that one.”
“It’s tough. You can see it in his face. When you look into [Chapman’s] eyes,” said Cole, who gave up one run in 5⅓ innings. “[Chapman] was able to bounce back from last year, he’ll be able to bounce back this year. He’s a good player. He’s committed to the team, committed to getting better. Having been on the team last year to give the punch, then on the team that takes it this year, I can see how he wears it. He’s human just like all of us.”
It was an abrupt end for the 27-time world champions, sent packing in the franchise’s first postseason bout with the Rays, who trolled them by playing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” during their on-field celebration at Petco Park, proving that he who laughs last laughs best.
“This is the kind of fight you want to get all the way and win everything with everything we’ve gone through already. It is pretty tough,” said slugger Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees’ offensive MVP this postseason in hitting .308 with six homers and 13 RBIs. “I am not worried about the story or worried about [how the Rays are celebrating]. We’re going home and they are not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is over there, we want to be on the winning side.”
“It’s awful,” said Boone, who spoke to what he referred to as a tearful and disappointed clubhouse for a third consecutive year. “The ending is cruel, it really is.”