How’s that for a narrative shift?
“We might as well ruin their day up there in Connecticut,” said Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks, referring to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol (ESPN won’t be broadcasting any of the ALCS games or the World Series). “We’re fine with it. We love it. We’re a good ballclub and we’re trying to go out there and win no matter how big the market is for the team we’re playing across.”
They swept the Toronto Blue Jays out of the wild-card round. Next they’ll take the noble role of battling the Astros. But the ALDS, the way it ended, was a true reflection of how odd and effective these Rays are.
It took five games to best the New York Yankees, who Fairbanks called ESPN’s “golden child,” who turned to Gerrit Cole, their $324 million ace, in Game 5. It took, really, a gutsy bullpen plan and Mike Brosseau’s late homer off Aroldis Chapman. Brosseau, undrafted in 2016, was nearly hit in the head by Chapman’s 101 mph fastball in September. Both benches cleared then, showing Tampa the unfamiliar space of tabloids and Internet debate. Then Chapman, on a $48 million contract himself, was beat by Brosseau on the 10th pitch of an eighth-inning at-bat Friday, a shot that chased the Yankees and swirled the Rays’ dugout into a mosh pit.
To get there, they used Nick Anderson, a late-inning reliever, for eight outs between the third and fifth. Fairbanks and Diego Castillo each pitched two frames behind him. Brosseau was the hero of an unbelievable ending. It was all very Rays, and now their run continues.
“Are you surprised?” Anderson asked, countering a question about using high-leverage relievers in early innings. “That’s kind of like the Rays way: Switch things up, do something a little different.”