Rays embrace underdog role: 'Fuels our fire'

October 1st, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays and Yankees will be staying in the same hotel over the next week -- though different sections -- and the two teams won’t be bonding over the beautiful San Diego weather or the food scene inside the bubble.

The American League Division Series matchup between Tampa Bay and New York will be between two teams and organizations that don’t like each other -- and they were open about that dislike during the regular season. That will only intensify when the clubs take the field beginning on Monday in Game 1.

“That’s the entertainment business of it,” said Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. “It’s going to be a good fight. We’re taking this East Coast battle to the West Coast now.”

After seasons of back-and-forth, including some chirping from the Yankees’ dugout and retired pitcher CC Sabathia, the tipping point came this September at Yankee Stadium after Aroldis Chapman threw a 100 mph fastball over Mike Brosseau’s head. The benches cleared at the end of the game and it led to manager Kevin Cash directing some strong words at the Yankees. Both Cash and New York manager Aaron Boone were suspended one game after the incident.

But while most of the questions leading up to Game 1 on Monday will be focused on the history between the two teams, the Rays said Thursday that they’re looking forward to the matchup and they hope that what happened last month doesn’t carry over into the postseason.

“I think everything that happened in New York is hopefully in the past,” Brosseau said. “The way that we pitch is the way that we pitch. But as far as things carrying over from past experiences, at least from our end, I think we put it in the past and our focus is on getting past this round and moving on.

“I think we’re excited as a team. I’m excited personally, and yeah, San Diego should be a fun time.”

The Rays and Yankees will likely say all the right things heading into Game 1, but Tampa Bay has plenty to gain by beating New York. The obvious prize is that the Rays would move on to the AL Championship Series and get closer to their World Series goal. The other is that Tampa Bay feels it would finally get some respect from the rest of the baseball world.

Pete Fairbanks called out ESPN on Wednesday after the network referred to 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell as “Ian Snell” during its broadcast. Fairbanks, who closed out the Game 1 win over the Blue Jays, was referred to as “Patrick.” Brandon Lowe, who’s last name rhymes with "wow" -- not "low" -- is always in the middle of the mispronunciations, including at the All-Star Game last season.

With a win over the Yankees, it’ll be hard to forget their names.

“I think Pete kind of nailed it,” Lowe said. “It’s just what we expect at this point. We expect nothing less. It just is what it is now. We don’t expect anybody to go above and beyond, and getting Ian Snell on the mound and Patrick -- that’s just something you laugh at and move on.”

Though the Rays come into the ALDS showdown with the Yankees as the top seed and the only AL team with 40 wins this season, the likelihood is that New York will be the popular pick to move on to the ALCS. It’s not a new concept and one the small-market Rays have grown accustomed to. Despite going 8-2 against New York this season, and contrary to what Boone half-jokingly said on Thursday, the Rays will be the underdog in this series. But that’s just how Tampa Bay likes it.

“It doesn’t matter what the record is, most likely we’re going to be considered the underdog,” Brosseau said. “I think that kind of fuels our fire a little bit. I think we have a team full of people that have been considered underdogs through their entire careers and we’re kind of piled into one big team here.”