Let me pause for a moment from the current political chaos that confronts our country, and turn to a still existing passion of mine: baseball. I have always maintained that the results of sporting events, unlike reality television, are unpredictable. So it was, with the last game of a best out of five series between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. Although going into the series of 2020, the Rays had the better record than the Yankees, the latter had suffered the loss of several of their key players during the shortened Covid season due to injuries. However, in the playoffs to determine who would win the pennant and go on to play in the World Series, New York was at full strength.
This year the Yankee annual payroll was the highest in the major leagues at $113.9 million, with the Dodgers second at $105.5 million. Tampa Bay’s payroll was the 27th of all 30 teams at $28.6 million. As the series began, with the exception of perhaps two batters, all of the Yankees were potential home run hitters. They had the look of sluggers emulating their famed past as the Bronx Bombers. Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton all brought their own package of peril to any opposing pitcher. When one looked at the smaller size of the Rays’ players, compared to that of the Yankees, one may have concluded this to be a battle between David and Goliath.
Although Tampa Bay did not compare to the Yankee bats, their pitching came close to equaling that of the New York squad. But all of the Yankee arms were available, such as starter Gerrit Cole and star reliever, Aroldis Chapman, the man whose fastball had been clocked at 100 miles per hour. Gerrit Cole had signed a 9-year contract with the Yankees that paid him $36 million per year, the highest salary of all players in baseball.
With Gerrit Cole pitching in the opener of the series, the Yanks dominated the Rays, winning 9 to 3. But after that, Tampa Bay came back to win the next two contests. The Yankees won the fourth game of the series 5 to 1 with Aroldis Chapman, appearing unhittable, swiftly getting the final four outs of the game. In that meeting, it was 4 to 1 when Chapman entered in the top of the 8th inning. The New Yorkers added a run to their lead in the bottom of the 8th inning, at which point I wondered whether Yankee manager, Aaron Boone, would send Chapman out to record the final three outs. Because New York had to win, Boone probably did not want to take any chances so he let Chapman finish the game.
Boone chose Gerrit Cole to pitch the 5th and final game on 4 days of rest, rather than his normal 5-day respite. From start to finish, this was the most exciting contest of all. Cole was quite effective inasmuch as he held the Rays to one run, with the score 1 to 1, going into the top of the 6th. With one out, by far the best hitter for Tampa in the series, Randy Arozarenac came to the plate and walloped Cole’s first pitch that sent left fielder Brett Gardner back to the wall, and with a perfectly timed leap, he speared the ball in the web of his glove for a great catch. After that play, Cole appeared dazed and disoriented, as if he was asking: What just happened? Wisely, Boone immediately took Cole out thanking him for his efforts.
The score remained 1 to 1 when Chapman started the bottom of the 8th inning. Arozarenac, the first batter of the inning, fouled off a couple of pitches before grounding out sharply to the shortstop. I saw this as a good sign for the Rays because the day before the Rays could not touch Chapman. I wondered if Chapman’s arm would hold out, given the fact that he had thrown about 20 pitches the previous day. Now Mike Brousseau came up to hit. Chapman kept hurling fastballs, but Brosseau refused to go down swinging, fouling off a number of pitches, making it a full count. When a batter fouls off several pitches after he has two strikes on him, the pitcher may become frustrated and exhausted in trying to get the third strike or an out. In my opinion, the more pitches a batter sees, the more he adjusts to the rhythm of that hurler. Furthermore, a full count means the pitcher has to throw a strike or a pitch close to the strike zone to avoid walking the batter. On the 10th pitch Chapman dealt to him, Brousseau solidly connected with a home run. Perhaps he was tired or frustrated when, subsequently, Chapman declared he gave too much of the plate to Brousseau making it too easy for him to hit. When Diego Castillo held the Yankees in check in the top of the 9th inning, Tampa Bay won the game.
Chapman could not match his stellar performance from the day before. It was another day and, in baseball, one cannot predict the outcome of a game based on an earlier result. With all their money, the Yankees once more came up short, losing to a team whose management did not come close to matching their hefty payroll.