Opinion: Mike Brosseau powers Rays into ALCS by getting revenge vs. Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman

SAN DIEGO — The Tampa Bay Rays refused to leave Friday night, partying on the field, smoking cigars and staging a dance-off. They also mocked and trolled the Yankees, dancing to “New York, New York,’’ and even going so far as to ridicule Frank Sinatra.

Oh, yeah, they were in their own “Empire State of Mind,” and loving every single second.

The Rays, getting the ultimate revenge, knocked off the powerful Yankees in the most satisfying way possible, winning the American League Division Series in the decisive Game 5, 2-1, on a home run by Mike Brosseau. They advance to the ALCS to play the Houston Astros.

“I don’t know that anybody who follows the game of baseball could be happier for us,’’ said Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks, “especially getting revenge when he almost got decapitated.’’

Mike Brosseau touches home plate after hitting a home run off Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman in Game 5 of the ALDS.

Yes, he’s talking about that Sept. 1 game at Yankee Stadium when Brosseau went to the plate and Chapman fired a 101-mph fastball towards his head that barely missed, prompting the benches to clear. A nasty exchange of words followed, and Chapman received a three-game suspension that was never served.

“I got a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98!’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said that night. “Period!”

Now, five weeks later, with Brosseau facing Chapman with one out in the eighth inning, Brosseau battled Chapman for 10 pitches, sending the last one, a 100.2-mph fastball, over the left field fence.

“Hands down,’’ Cash said, “the greatest moment I’ve ever been part of in baseball.’’

The Rays went nuts. They jumped over the dugout railing. They pounded fists. Screamed until their lungs burned. And looked over at the Yankees’ bench, and saw nothing but silence.

“I blacked out,’’ Rays starter Tyler Glasnow said. “No way. No way. …That was the most memorable moment I’ve ever been a part of.’’

Glasnow took a deep breath, composed himself, and still was trying to grasp what he just witnessed.

“That was like very much storybook,’’ Glasnow said. “That was crazy. To have that long of an at-bat, to battle that long, all of the history we’ve had, and for Brosseau to hit a bomb off Chapman, that’s just nuts.’’

Said Rays outfielder Austin Meadows, who homered off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in the fifth inning: “You can’t script it. For that to happen early in the year, and then to face it at the end, you just can’t script it. Very special moment. Being part of that game, being part of that moment with Brosseau, you really can’t put that in words.

“It couldn’t happen to a better guy.’’

The Rays, knowing they couldn’t celebrate the way they normally would – spraying champagne and being intoxicated in a matter of minutes – instead shot off confetti in the clubhouse, had beers, and took their celebration onto the field, where they posed for pictures, danced, and partied as much as you could during a pandemic.

“Just a lot of emotion,’’ Glasnow said, “a lot of sounds that I haven’t heard grown men make for sure. We can’t have champagne, but the emotion and everything that happened just made up for it.’’

Yeah, and considering the way they have been bullied by the Yankees since the franchise was born before finally beating them up this year (11-4 in their 15 games), they couldn’t help but troll the Yankees, even chiding them for their taste of music by blasting Sinatra’s “New York, New York.’’

“I prefer happier music than Frank Sinatra,’’ Fairbanks said. “That song kind of gets on my nerves to be honest.’’

Yep, kind of like the Yankees did, until Brosseau took care of that with one swing of the bat.

“The baseball gods answered that one,’’ Fairbanks said. “You watched it. I watched it. We watched it.

“The game took care of itself on the field the way it was supposed to.’’

Brosseau, 26, undrafted four years ago out of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. But he insists he was not thinking about revenge when he stepped to the plate. It never crossed his mind, he said.

Well, at least that’s his story, and he was sticking to it.

“The revenge aspect was not a thought on my mind,’’ said Brosseau, as his teammates were on the field playing, Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” 

“It was a business trip. At the beginning of the year, we knew they were going to be in our way where we wanted to be.’’

Really, the only sweet revenge on Brosseau’s mind was the fact that 29 other teams in baseball could have signed him out of college, but only the Rays showed interest.

“To have the Rays give me a chance four years ago when nobody else did,’’ Brosseau said, “certainly made it a little more special. We have a lot of guys who have been overlooked early in their career. The combination of everybody having a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, coming to the park, and doing their part, is a dangerous combination.’’

The Rays are awfully scary. They not only have tremendous talent, but the guts to do anything, and everything – like having their starter go on two days’ rest, bringing in their closer in the third inning, employing four-man outfields, and using ace Blake Snell as nothing more than a decoy.

It’s a team that no one outside Florida knows, but now they are making sure you know how to pronounce their names and spell them right. And they are chiding ESPN and every national media outlet for not giving them the love they deserve.

“We beat their Golden Child (in the Yankees),’’ Fairbanks said of ESPN. “After last year, I thought we felt as a unit we were on the brink (of a championship). So we might as well ruin their day up there in Connecticut.

“We’re fine. We love it. We’re a good ballclub.’’

Oh, how they’re proving just that, loud and clear.

“The Rays kind of fly under the radar a little bit,’’ pitcher Nick Anderson said, “and don’t get the publicity that big markets get.

“I think everybody should know who we are now.

“It’s crazy how the world works.’’

And the Rays are sitting atop of it.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

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