In Yankees-Rays Rivalry, Tampa Proves To Be Superior Team From Start To Finish

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Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Five

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 09: Gio Urshela #29 of the New York Yankees reacts after lining out … [+] during the ninth inning as the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 2-1 victory in Game Five of the American League Division Series at PETCO Park on October 09, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The Yankees had championship aspirations, but weren’t even the best team in their own division.

The Rays owned them from start to finish. They got the ultimate revenge against their hated AL East rivals on Friday night – and it came off the bat of Mike Brosseau.

Brosseau delivered the go-ahead, solo homer off nemesis Aroldis Chapman – who threw a 101-mph fastball at the Rays first baseman’s head in September – with one out in the eighth inning, and Tampa eliminated the Bombers with a thrilling 2-1 victory in decisive Game 5 at Petco Park to advance to the ALDS.

Bottom line: The better team won. The Yankees finished 4-11 against the Rays in 2020. It was a massive missed opportunity to face the Astros with a diminished rotation. And it’s going to be a long winter in the Bronx.

The Bombers signed Gerrit Cole to a $324 million contract last offseason, the “white whale” that was going to put them over the top. And Cole pitched like a big-game ace on short rest in Game 5. He made two mistakes. One of them left the ballpark. The other fell into a leaping Brett Gardner’s glove as he jumped above the left-field wall.

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In 5 1/3 innings, Cole allowed one hit – a fifth-inning solo shot by Austin Meadows – and struck out nine.

But the mighty bats were neutralized by Tampa manager Kevin Cash’s stable of guys who throw 98. Aaron Judge homered off another elite reliever – Nick Anderson – but the Bombers struck out 11 times and managed just three hits. Opportunities were few and far between. Luke Voit, who guaranteed victory, struck out with two on to end the sixth. Giancarlo Stanton, who was brilliant, finishing with six homers and 13 RBIs in October, went 0-for-3 with a walk.

“Good fight. Sucks losing,” Cold told reporters in San Diego.

The failed opener strategy in Game 2 will not be forgotten. The Yankees missed Luis Severino, James Paxton and Tommy Kahnle, but once again they went down with their flamethrowing closer on the mound. Brosseau followed Jose Altuve (walk-off homer) and Carlos Correa (walk-off double) in taking advantage of Chapman on the biggest stage – his homer culminating a riveting 10-pitch at-bat.

It is four straight seasons now where New York has fallen short in its quest for title No. 28. Houston had Justin Verlander. Boston had Chris Sale. This time, Cole was apart of the Evil Empire. But Tampa had Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow.

The Yankees must now look themselves in the mirror and reevaluate their processes, and answer several questions:

Are they too analytics-reliant? Is Aaron Boone given enough latitude by the front office collaborators to manage the way he wants?

Do they need to balance the right-handed, homer/strikeout heavy lineup with a left-handed, contact bat?

What is Gary Sanchez’s future? Will Brett Gardner be back? How will they built out the rotation after Cole?

Free agent DJ LeMahieu deserves a long-term deal, but has Masahiro Tanaka throw in his last pitch in pinstripes?

Brian Cashman and Co. have put together an annual contender — comprised of shrewd signings, homegrown talent and diamonds in the rough — but now must find a way to get over the hump.

“We’re going to get there, I know it. It’s going to make it all the sweeter,” Boone said.

Still, this latest ouster has to be tough to swallow. The Red Sox punted on the season. The Astros lost Cole to free agency, and Verlander to Tommy John surgery. A World Series run seemed likely. But the Rays slammed that door shut, with Randy Arozarena emerging as their latest unstoppable, out-of-nowhere star.

The Yankees were simply too up-and-down. Their talent was obvious, but their pitching depth was too thin, and their lineup was too feast or famine in the end. Their defense also needs tightening. Can Gleyber Torres be a long-term shortstop?

The pandemic created problems, but this season was still a failure. It has been 11 years and counting since their last World Series championship.

In the end, they’ll be watching the hated Rays and Astros in the ALCS.

In the end, the better team won.

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