Brett Phillips Plays the Unlikely Hero in Game 4 of the World Series
Game 4 of the 2020 World Series was a wild ride. How wild? There was a record-setting home run, a go-ahead three-run blast, and four lead changes in four innings, and none of those moments were the top moment in the game. Instead, the highlight was an ending as wild as anyone could imagine, as the Rays defeated the Dodgers 8–7 to even this year’s Fall Classic at two games apiece.
Let’s go over a few of the other big moments first. The Dodgers jumped out to an early lead on a first-inning home run by Justin Turner. Corey Seager would continue his torrid postseason hitting with a solo shot of his own in the third to increase the lead to 2–0. Tampa Bay rookie Randy Arozarena, who has taken this October by storm, cut the deficit in half with his ninth dinger of the playoffs, setting a new MLB record for the most home runs hit by a player in a single postseason. Over the first half of the contest, the Dodgers would score in multiple innings, but the Rays would stay close enough to allow it to remain a ballgame.
The theatrics began in the sixth inning. A Kiké Hernandez double gave the Dodgers a 4–2 lead, but a dramatic three-run homer by Brandon Lowe off of Pedro Baez promptly flipped the script. Unfortunately, the good vibes didn’t last long for Lowe. In the very next half inning, the Dodgers loaded the bases, and Joc Pederson stepped up to the plate against Tampa Bay relief ace Nick Anderson, who has struggled this postseason. Pederson hit a liner to short right field, where Lowe was positioned on the shift. The ball deflected off the glove of the diving second baseman, and the Dodgers scored two runs on the play to retake the lead.
That didn’t last long, either. Baez — who for some reason was sent back out for the seventh inning despite being told by Dave Roberts that he was done for the evening — served up another bomb to Kevin Kiermaier. The game was tied once again.
But wait, there’s more! Seager would drop a bloop single into shallow left field in the top of the eighth to put L.A. on top once again. Things finally seemed to settle down, with a scoreless bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth putting the Dodgers three outs away from a commanding 3–1 series lead. Enter the unlikely hero: Brett Phillips.
Kenley Jansen got the call to close things out, but a one-out single by Kiermaier and a two-out walk of Arozarena put the tying run in scoring position. That brought up the number three spot in the batting order, which was now being occupied by… Phillips, who had pinch run for Ji-Man Choi, who had pinch hit for Mike Brosseau. Follow all of that?
There in the box stood the former sixth round pick, he who owned a career 69 OPS+ and had been left off the ALCS roster, for the biggest plate appearance of his life. A couple of well-located offerings on the corners from Jansen found the outfielder in a 1–2 hole.
But Jansen left a cutter over the plate, and Phillips sent a soft line drive into right-center field to tie the game. Chris Taylor was charging the ball and booted it. Arozarena kicked it into high gear in an attempt to score the winning run, but he stumbled and fell after rounding third base. It looked as if he was destined to be thrown out at home by a long shot or get caught in a rundown, but catcher Will Smith turned his attention to the runner prematurely as the throw was coming in, causing the ball to get by him. Arozarena slid headfirst into home, remaining on the ground for a few seconds to catch his breath and process what on earth had just happened.
Meanwhile, Phillips was, in his own words, “airplaning around the outfield” as his teammates followed.
It was a reminder that even in today’s game, where decisions are carefully calculated based on advanced metrics and probabilities, there will always be unexpected moments and surprising heroes. Playing percentages undoubtedly helps you win, but it never guarantees one. That’s because in baseball, you have to bat nine players in a specific and unchangeable order, giving everyone opportunities to contribute. Just as importantly, there are very few things in the sport that have a success or failure rate of 100%. Brett Phillips has a career .284 on-base percentage — extremely low, but not zero. Kenley Jansen has held opponents to a .243 on-base percentage over his career — extremely low, but not zero. Phillips happened to come up with a hit that will forever cement him into Rays lore. The Brewers and Royals both moved on from him due to his struggles at the plate, but tonight, he was the hero. It could very well be the highlight of his career, a moment that he’ll remember forever, one that he’ll tell his grandkids about someday.
As for the Rays, they now find themselves tied in the series rather than having to fight for their lives in a do-or-die Game 5. Should Tampa Bay end up hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy this year, the dramatic finish of Game 4 will no doubt be looked back upon as a turning point in the series.
Baseball is fun.