SAN DIEGO — The Yankees felt it was a lock.
Having saved their season with a victory in Game 4 of the Division Series on Thursday night, they had ace Gerrit Cole ready to start the winner-take-all Game 5 — exactly the kind of situation managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner had in mind when he signed him to a record nine-year, $324 million free-agent deal.
"We’re going to win it," Luke Voit said after Game 4. "We’re locked and loaded . . . I know Gerrit’s going to come out and do his thing."
Cole did — but the Yankees’ bats, so potent during much of this postseason, were shut down in a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Petco Park that sent them home for the offseason well before they were ready.
"It’s awful," said Aaron Boone, who oversaw a teary-eyed clubhouse for a third straight season. "The ending is cruel, it really is."
Added Voit: "I hate this feeling. It sucks. Third year going through it . . . it’s not what we wanted."
Since missing the playoffs in 2016, the Yankees had fallen to the Astros in the 2017 ALCS, the Red Sox in the 2018 ALDS and the Astros in the 2019 ALCS — and all that misery was followed by this crushing loss to the Rays.
"Big disappointment," said Cole, an Astro last season. "Not the way we drew it up. We didn’t accomplish our goal."
The Rays will get a chance to accomplish theirs. They’re in the ALCS for the first time since 2008 and will face the Astros for the right to go to the World Series.
Each team managed only three hits on Friday night, but two of the Rays’ hits were solo home runs. Mike Brosseau, who had to duck as a 101-mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman whizzed over his head on Sept. 1, homered off Chapman with one out in the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie. He turned around a 100-mph fastball to cap a 10-pitch at-bat and send the Tampa Bay dugout into hysterics.
"I feel terrible," said Chapman, who allowed Jose Altuve’s series-deciding walk-off homer in Game 6 of last year’s ALCS.
After nearly being beaned by Chapman with two outs in the ninth on Sept. 1, Brosseau struck out to end the game. The benches then cleared and Chapman was given a three-game suspension, but he appealed the punishment and did not miss any games. The decision about what discipline he will receive will be made in the future.
"Not thinking about that at all," Chapman said through his interpreter. "That happened [over] a month ago. This is the way it worked out. He put a good swing on that pitch and I have to give him credit."
With the Yankees down to their last three outs after Brosseau’s homer, Giancarlo Stanton took a called third strike, Voit struck out swinging and Gio Urshela lined to third against Diego Castillo, the fourth of four hard-throwing Rays pitchers.
And with that, the Rays earned the right to blare "New York, New York" several times on a loudspeaker outside their dugout as they celebrated deep into the San Diego night.
Cole, pitching on only three days’ rest for the first time in his career, was terrific, allowing one run, one hit and two walks with nine strikeouts in 5 1⁄3 innings. The one hit, however, was a two-out homer by Austin Meadows in the fifth that tied it at 1. Aaron Judge’s homer off Nick Anderson in the fourth had given the Yankees the lead.
Tyler Glasnow, starting on two days’ rest after throwing 95 pitches in Game 2, allowed no runs in 2 1⁄3 innings. Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Castillo went the rest of the way.
"It’s tough," Judge said of another postseason coming up short of the ultimate prize. "Every year we come into spring training with a stacked team that’s ready to roll . . . and to come up short the past couple of years, it’s tough. But those are just scars that are going to continue to make this team stronger and continue to make this team better, and make that World Series title sweeter in the end."
Boone said the clubhouse mood was "similar" to last season in Houston, which was funereal. The unique circumstances brought about by COVID-19 only added to that, he said.
"I think everybody in that room expected to get it done," Boone said. "There’s tears, people saying some amazing things. I just think you add on top of it all that 2020’s been . . . the sacrifices that players, media, staff, clubhouse personnel [made]; being away from family and just all that’s going on in the world right now. I’m proud of the sacrifice and commitment the guys have had in kind of heartbreaking conditions. But no one I’d rather go through it with than those guys."