Late homer ends Yankees season in crushing ALDS loss to Rays

The pinstriped bubble collapsed Friday night when Aroldis Chapman stuck a very sharp knife in it.

As they did during the weirdest baseball regular season ever, the Rays finished ahead of the Yankees in the ALDS via a 2-1 victory in the best-of-five series at San Diego’s Petco Park.

Mike Brosseau, who infamously had his head buzzed by a 101-mph fastball from Chapman at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 1, sent a 3-2 fastball from the Yankees closer, a pitch clocked at 100 mph, over the left-field wall in the eighth inning.

The defeat ended what can only be described as a disappointing season on many levels for the Yankees. Favored to reach the World Series in March before COVID-19 halted spring training, and also in June when spring training resumed, the Yankees finished second to the Rays in the AL East.

Friday night, the Yankees wore the runner-up hat again despite a solid performance from Gerrit Cole, who started on three days’ rest for the first time in his big league career.

Cole gave up one hit, a solo home run to Austin Meadows with two outs in the fifth, in 5 ¹/₃ innings and struck out nine.

That wasn’t good enough because four Rays pitchers held the Yankees to three hits, one of which was Aaron Judge’s homer in the fourth.

The Rays advanced to the best-of-seven ALCS, which opens Sunday at Petco Park, to face the Astros. The Yankees, meanwhile, head into another offseason without reaching the World Series. Their last trip was in 2009, when they won their 27th world championship.

Manager Aaron Boone called for Chapman with two outs and a runner on in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game and the left-hander struck out Brandon Lowe with a 99-mph fastball.

With the score tied, 1-1, in the home sixth, Brett Gardner took a home run away from Randy Arozarena by getting his glove above the left-field wall and dragging the ball back into the field of play for the first out.

That was Cole’s last batter, when Boone summoned lefty Zack Britton to face the left-handed hitting Ji-Man Choi. Rays manager Kevin Cash countered with Brosseau, who reached on infield single to short.

After walking Yandy Diaz, Britton struck out Joey Wendle and retired Willy Adames on a fly to right.

A full-count walk to Giancarlo Stanton with two outs in the sixth pushed Aaron Hicks to second and gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position.

That brought Luke Voit to the plate. The major league’s leading home run hitter during the regular season had homered in Game 4. This tine, Pete Fairbanks jumped ahead of Voit, 1-2, and punched him out with a 100-mph fastball the Yankees slugger whiffed at.

Cole loaded the bases in the first inning by issuing two walks and hitting Arozarena on the left elbow with a 97-mph fastball. Cole went to a full count on Joey Wendle and caught him looking at fastball clocked at 97-mph. The punch-out fired up the emotional Cole, who turned toward the Rays’ first-base dugout and let out a scream.

When Cole struck out Wendle, it was the start of a string of eight consecutive outs. Included in that streak were six strikeouts.

The Rays had four fielders in the outfield when Judge led off the fourth inning. They could have used a fielder in the seats beyond the right-field wall, because that is where Judge hit a 1-0 pitch off Nick Anderson for the game’s first run.

Since homering off the Indians’ Shane Bieber in the first inning of the opening game of the AL wild-card series, Judge had two hits in 22 at-bats entering the game: a single and homer.

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