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Baseball: Ex-Hamptons League player delivers KO blow to Yankees

Mike Brosseau had the final word. And his bat spoke volumes.

Brosseau, a former player for the Riverhead Tomcats of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, was in the batter’s box for the Tampa Bay Rays Sept. 1 when he ducked as a 101 mph fastball from the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman buzzed past his head, prompting both dugouts to empty. (As if the two rivals already weren’t exactly fond of each other).

Brosseau got his revenge by homering twice the following day against the Yankees.

And then there was an added dose of revenge in decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series Friday night against those same Yankees at Petco Park in San Diego. With the score tied, 1-1, and one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, it was Brosseau’s turn to step into the batter’s box against Chapman once again for what proved to be one of the biggest at-bats in club history.

Brosseau dug in at the plate, took a first-pitch strike and then swung and missed to fall behind in the count.

Mike Brosseau pictured with the Riverhead Tomcats in 2013.

A tumbling slider just missed the strike zone and a high pitch evened things at 2-2. Brosseau fouled off the next two pitches. Chewing on gum and looking composed, he showed a keen eye, taking an inside pitch for a ball.

He hooked the next offering foul. With teammates applauding and cheering him on, Brosseau fouled back another pitch from the fireballer.

And then it happened.

Brosseau ended the 10-pitch at-bat by clocking the ball over leftfielder Brett Gardner for his first career playoff home run, and the Rays bench erupted in joy. No. 43 was mobbed by teammates in the dugout.

The run stood up for a 2-1 Rays victory. Bye, bye Yankees.

Brosseau, 4-for-8 in these playoffs, was asked in the postgame news conference if he felt emotion, satisfaction.

“I don’t know if there’s any way to describe that kind of feeling,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

One thing he said he didn’t think about was revenge. There’s that “R” word again.

“The revenge aspect is not a thought in my mind,” he said. “We put that in the past and we’ve moved on …”

Rays manager Kevin Cash, who called it “the greatest moment” he has been involved in in baseball, dismissed any notion that Brosseau may have felt intimidated or excited about facing Chapman again in such a big spot. “That’s not in your mind as you’re hitting,” he said. “I’ll let Bross speak to that, but all he’s trying to do is put together a really good at-bat and find a way to get the barrel to it, and he found it in the biggest way I’ve ever seen.”

Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks didn’t shy away from mentioning revenge, though. He said, “I don’t think that anybody that’s ever followed the game of baseball could be happier for how that one ended for us, especially with Brosseau getting a little revenge after he almost got decapitated.”

Brosseau had four homers and eight RBIs in 18 at-bats against the Yankees this year.

Before he became a Yankee killer, Brosseau played for the Tomcats in 2013. That season he slashed .319/.732/.353 with a home run and 11 RBIs.

Tomcats general manager Patti Moore-White watched Friday’s game on TV from her Riverhead home. She said it was “almost overwhelming” to see one of her former players come up so big on the grand stage. “It just makes my day,” she said. “It makes me so proud. It reminds me of why we do this.”

Since 2009, the HCBL has seen 154 of its former players drafted by MLB teams. Twenty-one of them have reached the majors, according to the HCBL. Among them are former Tomcats Corbin Burnes (Milwaukee Brewers), Danny Mendick (Chicago White Sox), Aaron Slegers (Tampa Bay Rays), Frank Schwindel (Kansas City Royals) and Nick Tropeano (Pittsburgh Pirates).

Brosseau, 26, a professional since 2016, made his MLB debut last year with the Rays. Since then, his regular-season numbers are .284, 11 homers and 28 RBIs in 86 games.

The versatile infielder was undrafted coming out of Oakland University (Mich.). He acknowledged that disappointment still sticks with him.

“That’s a day that I kind of look at quite often honestly, is that day in June in 2016 [when] nobody wanted me,” he said. “So, that’s always a driving factor but, like I said, I couldn’t have been luckier to have a team like the Rays take a chance on a kid that went undrafted.”

The Rays earned a place in the AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros. That best-of-seven series will also be played in San Diego, starting Sunday.

Now Tampa Bay may have tapped into a new fan base: Riverheaders for Rays. The incredible story of this unheralded player so many people had previously overlooked continues.

Said Brosseau, “You really can’t script it any better.”

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