Brousseau’s defining moment leads Rays

by Gary Shelton on October 10, 2020

in general

Brosseau got the last laugh on Yankees./TIM WIRT

Saturday, 4 a.m.

This is how a man claims history. This is how a man makes certain his name is never forgotten.

Mike Brousseau, the head-hunted one, was back in the cross-hairs late Friday night. Once again, he stared toward the mound, and the intimidating presence of Aroldis Chapman loomed before him. Squint, and you could imagine it was Brousseau,  the underdog, the unexpected contributor, was the essential Tampa Bay Ray, and he facing Chapman, the rich player, the famous one, the essential New York Yankee.

And Brousseau carved himself a moment that will be remembered as long as there is baseball in Tampa Bay.

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On the 10th pitch of his at bat, Brousseau connected with a 99-mile-an-hour fastball from Chapman and drove it over the left field fence, giving the Rays a 2-1 win and clinching the American League Division Championship.

This is his image from now on. This is the story he will tell when he is old and gathers his grandchildren around his knees. This is the story you, too, will tell when his name comes up in conversation. He was the hero of the drama of a classic playoff game, the last man standing, the man who endeared himself to the fans of a franchise.

Just wondering: Should Chapman have thrown at him instead?

Perhaps you remember Brousseau ducking a 101-mile an hour pitch that Chapman sent toward his skull earlier in the season. Brousseau said that didn’t matter. Maybe not. But in some ways, it said everything about this team, that team that would not back down, the team that would not be intimidated.

The Rays pieced together a three-hit pitching effort with a couple of innings each from Tyler Glasnow (on two days’ rest), Nick Anderson (used absurdly early in the third inning), Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo, the hardest throwers that manager Kevin Cash had on hand.

“The gates were open, and the horses were running,” Fairbanks said, referring to Cash’s earlier warning that he had “a whole stable of pitchers who threw 98.” Only this time, they were throwing at the catcher’s mitts. The high-octane Yankees had only three hits (the Rays also had just three, but two of them were home runs).

For Brousseau, it has been a long journey since 2016, when no one in baseball seemed to want him. He was undrafted. But he steadily climbed the minors, and on Friday, he found himself in the spotlight.

“I don’t know if there is any way to describe that kind of feeling,” Brousseau said. “It’s something I’ll never forget. You’re so happy that this team … we do what we do. We all have a part to play. we have so much fun. We click so well together. I couldn’t be happier to keep this season going. No one wanted this season to end tonight. I’m happy to do my part to keep this team together for a little while longer.

“The revenge aspect is not a thought in my  mind. We put that in the past and we moved on. We came here as a business trip. You really can’t script it any better. “

Has there ever been a bigger home run for the Rays? Evan Longoria in Game 162, maybe.  Dan Johnson. Wade Boggs’ 3000th hit. But this one will be remembered, too. You’ll talk about the sheer joy on Brosseau’s face, the way he slapped palms with Yandy Diaz, or did his sort-of handshake dance with Willy Adames, the way he bumped chests with Ji-Man Choi, the way he was engulfed by the rest of his team. It was sheer joy. Beating the Yankees — Team Moneybags — is never a bad feeling, but this was the best. The Rays came from behind to tie the game off Cole (on a homer by Austin Meadows). They won it off Chapman, who Fairbanks referred to as “the Golden Child.” “A little revenge for Brousseau,” Fairbanks said, “after he was nearly decapitated.”

“Hands down, the greatest moment I’ve been a part of in baseball,” said manager Kevin Cash. “There have been some great ones, but for what that meant for this team, how we got there, that matchup, is  pretty special.

“Mike’s a big part of our club. He’s provided such a spark for us in whatever role we’ve asked him to do . I would agree with him (about not thinking about revenge). You put all of that stuff aside. It’s ‘what can you do to win the game.'”

There were other heroes. Glasnow, who barely had time to change since his last pitching outing. Diego Castillo, who went more than one inning (and was superb) for a change. Meadows, who has struggled all season.

And Cash.

There has been talk all along that Cash deserved to be in Manager of the Year discussion. This game should clinch it. His offense was scuffling — it had just six hits the last two games combined — and his pitching tired. But he flipped the normal reliever roles — using his high-leverage pitchers early — and it worked. He inserted Brousseau as a pinch hitter — and he had two of the three hits.

No one is second-guessed like a baseball manager. But Cash’s’ moves worked Friday night. They have most nights this season. 

The Rays now advance to the American League Championship series to face the Houston Astros. They will begin Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Arlington.

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