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


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 of Game 4. Even the players involved needed numerous replays to figure out exactly what happened.

Phillips had just delivered the game-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 walkoff victory you could possibly witness, to pull 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 head-first slide, and that sent Phillips flying around the outfield before he was buried beneath a howling pack of Rays. For Phillips, who wasn’t on the ALCS roster — he held up a dry-erase board with motivational messages — it was his first hit since Sept. 25. 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 doggie pile because I was literally this close to passing out.”

Same here, Brett. Same. Here. The entire night was an incredibly draining experience — for the players, the 11,441 fans in the building, the TV audience, everyone. The 4-hour, 10-minute game featured eight consecutive half-innings of at least one run being scored, passing the previous record of six set in the 1947 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Tampa Bay used seven pitchers, and by the ninth, had Blake Snell warming in the bullpen with Tyler Glasnow ready for multiple innings after him if need be. The Rays 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 these playoffs coming with two outs.

All that back-and-forth, however, merely set the stage for the incredible chain of events that followed in the ninth inning. 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 already homering earlier — his record ninth of this postseason. But the Dodgers wisely pitched around him to get to Phillips, who was only in the game after entering as a pinch-runner in the eighth.

For his career, when faced with a 1-and-2 count, Phillips was 6-for-57 (.105) with 40 strikeouts, and that’s the situation he found himself in Saturday night against Jansen. But this time, Phillips 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 due to 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 screw-up from the Dodgers as well, 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, Arozarena did a full roll, got up, took a step back toward third, then sprinted for the plate when Smith botched the throw. 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 anymore from that point on. Just truly incredible.”

The Rays were one strike away from a 3-1 deficit in this series. Instead, it’s all even, thanks to Phillips and an epic meltdown from the Dodgers. Now we’ll see if there’s any lingering effects from that Game 4 insanity.

“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.