Rays 8, Dodgers 7
2020 World Series Game Four
Gonzalo Márquez. Francisco Cabrera. And now Brett Phillips. One of the beauties of baseball is that anyone can be a hero. Teams can’t send up their best hitter whenever they need a big play – they send up the next player in the batting order. So when Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena walked Saturday night with two outs and Kevin Kiermaier on first in the bottom of the ninth, the next name on the list stepped to the plate. That name was Brett Phillips, and with the Los Angeles Dodgers holding a 7-6 lead in the game and a two-games-to-one series lead, a guy whose last hit came on September 25 is not the most likely candidate to be a hero.
That all changed when he dumped a 1-2 cutter from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen into right-center for a single. A quick retrieve and strong throw might have had a chance to get Kiermaier at the plate, but Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor muffed it. Kiermaier scored easily. Arozarena rounded third as the throw came home. A good throw was setting up a classic play at the plate. Except Arozarena fell and somersaulted, stumbling again as he headed back toward third. The Dodgers had him in a rundown, and the game was going to extra innings.
Or so we thought. Catcher Will Smith – who is normally as surehanded as anyone – dropped the ball. It hit plate umpire Chris Guccione in the left shin, deflecting toward the first-base side of the backstop. Arozarena turned back toward home and dove, scoring the winning run while flat on his belly. One strike away from falling into a 3-1 Series deficit, the Rays had evened it up, 2-2.
Disbelief All Around
An obviously – and understandably – irritated Jansen trudged toward the dugout to join his shellshocked teammates in the clubhouse. The Rays chased Phillips – a .196 hitter in 2020 who joined the Rays August 27 via trade from the Kansas City Royals – into the outfield to celebrate with him. Phillips, who attended high school 20 minutes away from Tropicana Field, had a giant look of disbelief on his face as he soaked in the moment. One of the greatest World Series games in recent memory had just ended on his walk-off hit. And to think that two hours earlier, it looked like the Rays were in big trouble.
How we got to this point was crazy in and of itself. For the fourth straight game, there was a home run in the top of the first inning. For the second straight game, it came off the bat of Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. This one happened with two outs, and it was a high fly that carried over the wall in dead center. That not only gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead against Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough but made Turner the all-time Dodgers leader in postseason homers. (Note: The player he passed, Duke Snider, played before there were playoffs, so his all came in the World Series. Turner has two more rounds in which to do it.)
The Dodgers extended their lead in the top of the third when shortstop Corey Seager smacked a homer to right, his eighth of the postseason. It tied the record for most home runs in a single postseason. In the bottom of the fourth, the man whose record Seager tied – Arozarena – retook the top spot on the leaderboard when he smashed a solo shot to right-center and made the score 2-1.
Dodgers and Rays Trade Punches for Several Innings
This kicked off a stretch that had never happened before in a World Series game. For eight consecutive half-innings, the batting team scored at least one run. In the top of the fifth, Seager reached with a one-out single off Pete Fairbanks and eventually advanced to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, first baseman Max Muncy singled to right, scoring Seager. The throw home was short, so Muncy ran for second. Rays catcher Mike Zunino ran in front of the plate to field the throw and gunned it to second. Muncy slid in feet-first and beat the tag, but as his pop-up slide ended, his momentum threw him off-balance. He fell into shortstop Willy Adames and could not keep himself on the bag. As he fell forward, Adames kept the tag on him, and once Muncy’s foot left the bag, he was out, retiring the side.
The Dodgers claimed that Adames, who “hugged” Muncy to protect both from injury, had intentionally pulled Muncy off the bag. Second base umpire Mark Carlson ruled that Muncy’s momentum was the reason his foot came off the bag. Therefore, the call stood, bringing back memories of Minnesota Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek pulling Atlanta Braves left fielder Ron Gant off the bag in Game Two of the 1991 World Series. (Fox Sports color commentator John Smoltz, a pitcher for the 1991 Braves, mentioned that on the air.)
First Lead Change of the Series
With the score now 3-1 Dodgers, right fielder Hunter Renfroe led off the bottom of the fifth for the Rays with a high, no-doubt home run into the right-field seats. Dodgers starter Julio Urias struck out the next two hitters before Blake Treinen relieved him and got first baseman Yandy Diaz to ground to third.
Diego Castillo, who usually closes games, took the mound in the top of the sixth with the Rays trailing the Dodgers, 3-2. Smith opened the inning with a walk. Two hitters later, center fielder AJ Pollock also walked, advancing Smith to second. After Taylor lined to left for the second out, second baseman Kiké Hernández stroked a double to left, scoring Smith as Pollock reached third. This brought up Betts with a chance to blow the game open, given that there were two runners in scoring position. A fly to center by Betts ended the threat with the Dodgers holding a 4-2 lead.
A single by Arozarena and walk by pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi led off the bottom of the sixth. After pinch-hitter Austin Meadows struck out, Pedro Báez entered the game to pitch to second baseman Brandon Lowe. In Game Two, Lowe hit two home runs. This at-bat gave him his third of the Series and gave the Rays a 5-4 lead. For the first time during the entire 2020 World Series, the lead changed hands. It was not the last.
Dodgers Regain the Lead
The red-hot Corey Seager led off the top of the seventh with a single to right off new pitcher Aaron Loup. A double to left-center by Turner put two runners in scoring position for Muncy, who fanned for the first out. Nick Anderson took the mound and whiffed Smith, bringing up Bellinger with two out. The Rays intentionally walked him to load the bases for Pollock, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts countered by sending the left-handed-hitting Joc Pederson to the plate. The Rays overshifted to the right-field side, putting Lowe in shallow right. Pederson hit a liner to the right of a diving Lowe, but the ball went off the tip of his glove and fell for a single. Two runs scored on the play. Bellinger inexplicably tried for third, where Renfroe gunned him down by several feet for the third out.
Despite the baserunning lapse by Bellinger, the Dodgers held a 6-5 lead going into the bottom of the seventh. A one-out solo home run by Kiermaier off Baez erased that lead, tying the game at six. Chris Taylor led off the top of the eighth with a double. Hernandez tried to move him to third with a bunt, but he popped it up instead, making an easy catch for the third baseman. A grounder to short by Betts for the second out brought up Seager to try and keep the runner in scoring position from going to waste. He hit a Texas Leaguer into left. Adames turned around and tried to make a running over-the-shoulder lunge catch, but he missed the ball by inches. Seager had delivered again, notching his fourth hit of the game.
Curtiss Delivers in the Clutch to Set Up Ninth Inning Drama
The Dodgers now led, 7-6, with Turner coming to the plate. John Curtiss took the hill to pitch to the Red Menace. Turner singled, advancing Seager to third with his fourth hit of the game. This was the fourth time in World Series history that two or more teammates had four hits or more in the same game. The last time this happened was Game One of the 1982 Series, when future Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount did so for the Milwaukee Brewers in a 10-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Adam Kolarek and Brusdar Graterol combined to keep the Rays scoreless in the eighth despite giving up two baserunners. Curtiss pitched a scoreless ninth, with a two-out single to Pederson as his only blemish. That sent the game to the bottom of the ninth, when Jansen took the hill. A strikeout by pinch-hitter Yoshi Tsutsugo, broken-bat single by Kiermaier, fly to left by third baseman Joey Wendle, and walk by Arozarena brought up Phillips, who had entered the game in the bottom of the eighth to pinch-run for Choi.
Rays Postgame Reactions
Rays manager Kevin Cash, still clearly in disbelief at the postgame press conference, said, “We needed something to go our way tonight, and it did.” He later added, “I wish I had better words to describe what the club is feeling like right now. The moment that the ball left Phillips’ bat, we knew we had a tie ballgame. Everything that happened afterwards – Randy (Arozarena) is not used to having to run like that. Normally he is just trotting, so it threw him off for a loop with getting tripped up there inbetween third and home.” He described the postgame scene in the Rays clubhouse as “about 40 people that were beside themselves with excitement and all wondering what in the heck just happened.”
Lowe added, “I’m about to live 15 years shorter. That kind of sums it up…. I think I lost 10 years on that last play. That’s a storybook baseball game if I’ve ever been a part of one. That was insane.”
Third base coach Rodney Linares credited Arozarena for keeping his eye on the ball even after he fell, saying that allowed him to quickly change directions and score after Taylor muffed the throw. He called Arozarena scoring while on his belly “a magical moment” before admitting that he “kind of blacked out for a minute.”
Phillips, grinning ear to ear during his entire postgame media session, gave another reason why this hit was so special for him. “This is my hometown team. In 2008, when these guys were in the World Series, I was in eighth grade watching them. Now to be a part of it – helping these guys win a World Series game, is special.”
Dodgers Postgame Reactions
Jansen, despite the gut-wrenching way the game ended, was upbeat after the game. “You can’t beat yourself (up). Like I said, you gotta stay positive. I didn’t give up one hard hit. What can I do? You can’t do anything with that. I threw the pitches where I wanted to. Credit to the hitters. A broken-bat single and then a bloop single – this is no time to hang our head. Tomorrow’s another day.”
Dave Roberts, whose reaction to the final play has already blown up on the internet, said, “This is a tough one. We have to digest it, but we have to turn the page. Now it’s a three-game series. We have Clayton (Kershaw) going tomorrow, and our focus has to turn to win tomorrow.”
Curtiss got the win in relief for the Rays, while Jansen got the notorious double-whammy of a blown save and loss for the Dodgers. Game Five is Sunday night at 8:07 Eastern/5:07 Pacific. Tyler Glasnow will start for the Rays while Kershaw, as mentioned earlier, will start for the Dodgers against in a rematch of the Game One starters.
(Author’s Note: Gonzalo Marquez hit a walk-off pinch-hit single in the 11th inning to win Game One of the 1972 ALCS between his Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers. It was aided by a throwing error by Hall of Fame right fielder Al Kaline, of all people. Marquez had already bought a plane ticket home to Venezuela and was getting ready to leave when he, after only playing in 23 regular-season games, found out he was on the ALCS roster.
Francisco Cabrera hit the famous two-run single off Stan Belinda in the bottom of the ninth of Game Seven to win the 1992 NLCS for the Atlanta Braves over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had only 11 plate appearances in the entire 1992 regular season.)
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