The one-on-one battle between batter and pitcher is what baseball is all about, and Friday night’s Game 5 of the American League Division Series between the Rays and Yankees created a perfect example.
The stage was set: winner-take-all game, bottom of the eighth inning, 1-1 tie. The 6-foot-4, fireballing left-hander Aroldis Chapman was on the mound for the Yankees. The 5-foot-10, undrafted, second-year infielder Michael Brosseau was digging into the right-handed batter's box for the Rays.
But before we get there, this tide-turning plate appearance is worth a closer look. Here is a pitch-by-pitch breakdown.
As has been well documented, these two had met before. In September 2019, Chapman threw Brosseau four straight fastballs and then whiffed him on a 2-2 slider in the dirt.
Then, on Sept. 1 this season at Yankee Stadium, Chapman’s first pitch to Brosseau with two outs in the ninth inning buzzed right over Brosseau’s head at 100.5 mph. Chapman later whiffed Brosseau again on another high fastball -- this time toward the outer part of the plate -- before things between the two teams got tense and the benches emptied. Chapman, who said there was “no intention” behind the near-beaning, was later suspended for three games by Major League Baseball for the incident, although he appealed.
All of that was a backdrop to this ALDS. In Game 4, the two went head-to-head again, with two outs in the ninth inning. Brosseau made life difficult on Chapman, working the count full and fouling off a high fastball before swinging through a 99.7 mph heater above the zone for a game-ending strike three.
Brosseau lost the battle, but in just his sixth plate appearance this postseason, the long look he got at Chapman might have played a role in what took place in Game 5.
THE PLATE APPEARANCE
Pitch No. 1: Called strike (0-1)
Sometimes the first pitch is the best one you see, and indeed, Chapman started Brosseau with a 98.3 mph fastball on the inside edge of the plate. Brosseau didn’t take the bat off his shoulder, and he regretted it.
“The first pitch of the at-bat was probably the best pitch for me to hit, so I was kind of disappointed in myself, kind of let that one go,” he told MLB Network.
Pitch No. 2: Swinging strike (0-2)
Chapman doesn’t throw as hard as he once did, but that’s a high bar. He still had 99th percentile velocity in 2020 (97.8 mph) and can crank it up to triple digits. Even tougher for a hitter is that Chapman’s long frame gives him great extension toward the plate, and the spin he generates gives his heaters the appearance of “rise.” Batters went 2-for-21 with 12 strikeouts against his four-seamer during the regular season, and when Chapman elevates the pitch -- as he did here -- he’s nearly impossible to hit. Brosseau swung and missed.
Now it was 0-2. That’s never a good position to be in, but especially against a strikeout artist like Chapman, who has allowed a career line of .094/.119/.124 after reaching that count. All Brosseau could do was dig in and try to survive.
Pitch No. 3: Ball (1-2)
Normally a fastball/slider pitcher, Chapman introduced another wrinkle late this season, throwing a handful of splitters and notching three strikeouts. But this one didn’t have a whole lot of bite on it, and Brosseau took it just outside to get to 1-2.
Pitch No. 4: Ball (2-2)
This was probably the only easy pitch of the plate appearance for Brosseau, a 99.2 mph fastball that sailed way above the zone to bring the count even. Now Brosseau was back in business.
Pitch No. 5: Foul (2-2)
Here is where the scratching and clawing really began. Chapman threw a slider that dove down and in toward Brosseau’s back foot. Since the start of 2019, batters had whiffed about two-thirds of the time when offering at an out-of-zone slider from Chapman, but Brosseau managed to get a piece of this one to stay alive.
Pitch No. 6: Foul (2-2)
Chapman gave Brosseau a fastball that was roughly in the middle of the strike zone. But with the 99.1 mph heater following an 86.4-mph slider, Brosseau was late on the swing.
Pitch No. 7: Ball (3-2)
Chapman unleashed a 100.7 mph fastball toward the inside edge -- not too far from where the final pitch of the plate appearance would go. But this was clearly off the plate. Brosseau took, home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson called ball three and Chapman put his hands on his hips in apparent frustration. The balance of power was shifting.
“Once it got to 2-2, 3-2, and I’d seen six or seven pitches,” Brosseau told MLB Network, “the odds came a little more in my favor.”
Pitch No. 8: Foul (3-2)
This was a fascinating pitch, with major repercussions. Chapman went back to the slider, but instead of burying this one down and in like he had earlier, he hung it. Brosseau was all over it. His bat was too quick, but he made loud contact and lifted the ball high into the upper deck of Petco Park down the left-field line.
One year earlier, Chapman had hung a slider to Houston’s Jose Altuve, which resulted in an ALCS-ending walk-off homer. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, speaking on TBS’ postgame show, believed that Chapman had to remember that failure. And Brosseau also figured that his opponent would go back to the heat at that point.
“I think that kind of lowered my pitch selection, to kind of zone in on that fastball and make sure I wasn’t getting anything up,” Brosseau told TBS.
Pitch No. 9: Foul (3-2)
Sure enough, Chapman pumped a fastball -- 99.2 mph up and over the plate. Brosseau fouled it straight back.
Pitch No. 10: Home run
After nine pitches -- not to mention the eight from the night before -- Brosseau had seen everything Chapman could offer and had a chance to lock in on his release point. His focus was on the fastball, preferably something down in the zone to counteract the ride that Chapman can create.
The left-hander obliged. The pitch was 100.2 mph, yes. But it was in almost the exact same location as the first pitch of the plate appearance -- down and on the inside edge -- and not far from the 2-2 pitch he took for a ball. Brosseau was ready and hammered a 105.2 mph liner that had just enough trajectory to clear the wall.
The pitch was the fastest hit for a homer in 2020 (regular season or postseason), the fastest hit for a homer by any Rays player in the pitch-tracking era (2008 to present), and the second-fastest taken deep in a postseason game in that time. Only Nelson Cruz has topped Brosseau, launching a 100.6 mph Justin Verlander heater in the 2011 ALCS.
“People always talk about, how do you hit 100?,” three-time All-Star Curtis Granderson said on TBS. “You have to be relaxed, loose with the hands, and then get yourself in position to be able to catch up to it. I thought [Brosseau] was nice and comfortable from the first pitch of the at-bat.”
It was a long road to get that point, from 0-2 hole to on top of the world. But Brosseau fought hard, and in the end, he authored another classic postseason moment.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.