ST. PETERSBURG — The revengeful home run Mike Brosseau delivered off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in the decisive fifth game of the 2020 American League Division Series will be forever a part of Rays lore.
But Brosseau’s role with the Rays diminished significantly in 2021, as he spent much of the year at Triple-A Durham. On Saturday, the versatile infielder/outfielder was traded to the Brewers in a deal designed to open a space on the 40-man roster.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I was surprised, but I definitely didn’t see it coming,” Brosseau said Saturday night. “You realize the business part of it pretty quick when this happens. ... Everybody knows what’s kind of going on in the organization. We play the depth game and when that game’s played, sometimes there tends to be a little (roster) crunch. It is what it is. I get it.”
The return looks intriguing, at the least: 22-year-old right-handed reliever Evan Reifert, who was 3-3, 2.10 with 103 strikeouts, 36 hits and 36 walks in 60 innings over 37 games at Class A.
Brosseau, 27, made an inspiring rise to the majors with the Rays, signing as an undrafted free agent from Oakland University (Michigan) in June 2016 with no other offers. He made his big-league debut in June 2019, admired by staff and teammates for his attitude and demeanor, and praised as a quality teammate.
Brosseau was in the middle of two big moments against the Yankees during the 2020 season.
In a Sept. 1 game at Yankee Stadium, he was nearly hit in the head by a 101 mph fastball from Chapman, leading to an onfield confrontation between the teams and terse words from Rays manager Kevin Cash, including his infamous threat of having “a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 miles an hour. Period.”
Brosseau got his initial revenge the next night, when he hit a two-run homer in the first inning and a solo shot in the fourth.
He delivered a much bigger blow in the AL Division Series in San Diego, hitting a go-ahead homer with one out in the eighth inning off Chapman, allowing the Rays to close out the game and eliminate the Yankees. Brosseau, who started the at-bat down 0-2 and homered on the 10th pitch, donated his bat to the Hall of Fame.
“Hands down the greatest moment I’ve been a part of in baseball,” Cash said at the time. “There’s been some great ones, but what that meant to this team, how we got there, that matchup, pretty special.”
That moment is among many Brosseau will savor.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” he said. “There’s so many memories going through my mind these last few hours, it’s been a whirlwind. You’re never going to hear my say I don’t appreciate and understand the position I’m in. So blessed to have all those opportunities and those moments. ...
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“I can’t tell you how many unforgettable memories and lifelong friends I have. Truly lucky to be in the organization. ... I couldn’t be more grateful. There’s literally so many people I could thank.”
Brosseau started the 2021 season with the Rays but didn’t hit well. He had a .182 average when he was sent down to Triple-A Durham in mid-June, and he spent most of the rest of the season in the minors. Jordan Luplow, who was acquired on July 31, essentially took Brosseau’s job as a right-handed hitting option at first base.
Reifert’s 2021 season, split between Low-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin, was his first in pro ball. He signed with the Brewers as a nondrafted free agent out of the University of Central Missouri following the pandemic-shortened 2020 draft, having also pitched two seasons at North Iowa Area Community College. Reifert was a 30th-round pick by Texas in 2018 but did not sign.
The Rays are looking to clear several spaces on the 40-man roster by Friday’s deadline to add prospects so they cannot be taken in the Rule 5 draft.
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