The Tampa Bay Rays were down 2 games to 1 in the 2020 World Series and trailing 7-6 with two outs and two runners on in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4. The guy at the plate, Brett Phillips, is known for his speed; he’d entered the game an inning earlier as a pinch runner. He was … not the guy Tampa wanted with a bat in his hand and its season on the precipice. Phillips, a career .202 hitter, had two at-bats and zero hits during these playoffs and wasn’t even on the Rays’ roster for the American League Championship Series. And then, facing Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, he fell behind in the count 1-2.
With a 1-2 count, major-league hitters (including the ones who are a lot better at hitting than Brett Phillips) don’t even bat .200 in aggregate. Phillips started the at-bat with little hope. By this point, with the Rays a strike away from a 3-1 World Series deficit, a little bit of hope felt like a lot more hope than was reasonable.
For Phillips, this all must have felt very strange. The Rays are his hometown team; he actually grew up with Rays posters on his wall. (I’m hoping he had a Toby Hall poster, because it would be funny if there were Toby Hall posters.) When Phillips came to Tampa via trade earlier this season, he called it “a dream inside of a dream.”
So what do you call this, Brett Phillips?
Phillips’ soft liner should’ve only tied the game 7-7. But Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor booted the ball, which spurred the Rays’ Randy Arozarena to make the ill-advised decision to charge for home … a decision that looked even more ill-advised when Arozarena made like Daniel Jones and toppled over halfway past third base … a decision that became, somehow, a genius maneuver when Dodgers catcher Will Smith made a swipe tag he didn’t have to make, lost the ball, and allowed Arozarena to dive home safely with the winning run. Rays 8 - Dodgers 7. World Series tied two games all. Whew.
It took Phillips a few minutes to gather himself for his on-field post-game interview, which makes sense when you watch how he spent the preceding moments.
When Phillips did get it together, he sounded like he’d just woken up from a dream inside of a dream wrapped inside a chalupa sold at a stand on a beach somewhere far away from the World Series.
There’s only one other baseball player who’s ever done what Phillips did in Game 4—get a game-winning hit in the World Series with his team down to its last strike. That player is Kirk Gibson, who limped off the bench for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and cranked a home run off the A’s Dennis Eckersley.
Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, calling that game on NBC, said of Gibson’s home run: “In a year that has been so improbable … the impossible has happened!” Jack Buck, calling it on the radio, shouted, “I don’t believe what I just saw!”
Jack’s son Joe Buck had more than enough to do just to narrate the 20 seconds of not-so-Dodgers-friendly chaos that spooled out before him on Saturday night. And, to his credit, he got everything exactly right.
Jansen. That is into center field. Here comes Kiermaier. Phillips has tied the game.
Arozarena coming around. Throw home, now he stumbles. But the ball gets away! Tampa Bay wins it!
Brett Phillips, Game 4 hero!
That last bit—Brett Phillips, Game 4 hero—sounds like it must be wrong. But I saw it, so I guess I believe it. Brett Phillips, Game 4 hero!