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Wild World Series Game 4 produces the unlikeliest of heroes in Brett Phillips

Brett Phillips of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates

Brett Phillips of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates after hitting a ninth inning two-run walk-off single to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-7, in Game 4 of the World Series at Globe Life Field on October 24, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Getty Images/Ronald Martinez

Amid the dizzying Game 4 aftermath late Saturday night, we all were Brett Phillips, the Rays’ 28th man, running free in the outfield, doing the airplane with arms extended wide, sporting a big, silly grin as teammates chased him on the grass of Globe Life Field.

None of us watching could believe it, either. But we got swept up in Phillips’ giddy postgame romp, our brains still trying to process what happened in that ninth inning. Even the players involved needed numerous replays to figure out exactly what had occurred.

Phillips had just delivered the winning hit off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, one of the most improbable moments orchestrated by one of the unlikeliest heroes in World Series history. And that still didn’t begin to explain how the Rays wound up with the craziest 8-7 walk-off victory you could possibly witness, pulling them even in this series at two games apiece.  

It all started with Phillips’ single to centerfield, where Chris Taylor had the ball clang off his glove as Kevin Kiermaier raced home from second as the tying run. Then catcher Will Smith couldn’t hold on to the relay throw from Max Muncy as he tried to swing around for a swipe tag of Randy Arozarena — who wasn’t there yet because he had fallen flat on his face between third base and home.

We’ll get back to that in more detail. But long story short, Arozarena finally crossed the plate with a headfirst slide, and that sent Phillips flying around the outfield before he was buried beneath a howling pack of Rays.

It was the first hit since Sept. 25 for Phillips, who wasn’t on the ALCS roster (his job in the dugout was to hold up a dry-erase board with motivational messages). He also hadn’t driven in a run since July 27. Afterward, Rays manager Kevin Cash couldn’t even remember when Phillips last had an at-bat.

"After we won, I took off like an airplane because I thought it was cool," said Phillips, who grew up a Rays fan in Seminole, Florida. "Little did I know I exhausted all my energy doing the airplane, and then all the guys caught up to me and were yelling. Next thing I know, I had no energy or breath to yell. And then I kind of had to get out of the doggy pile because I was literally this close to passing out."  

Same here, Brett. Same. Here.

The entire night was an incredibly draining experience. The 4-hour, 10-minute game featured eight consecutive half-innings in which at least one run was scored, breaking the record of six set in the 1947 World Series.

Tampa Bay used seven pitchers, and by the ninth, the Rays had Blake Snell warming in the bullpen, with Tyler Glasnow ready for multiple innings if need be. They also hit four homers, one each in consecutive innings, including Brandon Lowe’s three-run shot off Pedro Baez that put them ahead 5-4 in the sixth. Kiermaier’s solo shot tied the score at 6 in the seventh before Corey Seager put the Dodgers in front 7-6 in the eighth with a bloop RBI single, their 54th run of this postseason with two outs.

It all set the stage for the incredible finish. And the way things unfolded, the savior figured to be Arozarena, who came to the plate in the ninth as the go-ahead run after homering earlier, his record ninth of this postseason. But the Dodgers wisely pitched around him to get to Phillips, who was in after pinch running in the eighth.

For his career, when faced with a 1-and-2 count, Phillips was 6-for-57 (.105) with 40 strikeouts. But this time he slapped a 93-mph cutter into centerfield, and as fate would have it, Taylor was there instead of A.J. Pollock (removed for a pinch hitter) or Cody Bellinger (the DH because of a sore back).

"I know there’s some guys out there with a really slow heart rate that have been in the situation probably many times before — it’s just another day for them," Phillips said. "But for myself, it’s not. And I’m gonna enjoy the heck out of it."

The Rays still needed a colossal screwup by the Dodgers, and no matter how many times I watch the replay, it’s still hard to fathom how Arozarena actually got to the plate before the baseball did. The Rays were sending him all the way from first base after the ball got away from Taylor. Not only did he face-plant, but Arozarena did a full roll, got up, took a step back toward third, then sprinted for the plate when Smith botched the throw (the official scorer charged him with an error on Sunday). As he was laid out, Arozarena pounded the plate with joy.

"The baseball gods were on our side," Kiermaier said. "I was the happiest man on the planet to see Randy score and the game be over. I couldn’t take any more from that point on. Just truly incredible."

The Rays were one strike away from a 3-1 deficit in this series. Instead, it was all even, thanks to Phillips and an epic meltdown by the Dodgers.

"I still can’t believe it," Kiermaier said. "This is something that could really propel a team. Baseball works in mysterious ways and we feel really good about ourselves right now."

Better than the Dodgers. That’s for sure.

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