Phillips' dream comes true: 'Hard to believe'

Right fielder: 'To know the backstory, is to know the story'

October 25th, 2020

ARLINGTON -- grew up a Rays fan. He remembers shouting at the top of his lungs at every key moment in franchise history, including when the club made the World Series for the first time in 2008.

Phillips dreamed of playing for the Rays in a World Series, playing that scenario over and over again in his backyard. On Saturday, that dream came to life as Phillips delivered the most memorable play in franchise history, a two-out, game-tying RBI single followed by two Dodgers errors that gave Tampa Bay an 8-7, Game 4 victory over the Dodgers in one of the most improbable finishes in World Series history, tying the Fall Classic at two games apiece.

"To know the backstory, is to know the story," Phillips said. "When these guys were in the World Series, I was in eighth grade watching them. And now to be a part of it, helping these guys win a World Series game, it's special."

Down 7-6 in the ninth, the Rays desperately needed a hero. Phillips, now 26, was ready to be one. No matter that he hadn't had an at-bat in 17 days. No matter that he had been used primarily as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement since being acquired from the Royals on Aug. 27. No matter that he hadn't had a hit in a month.

Phillips dug into the batter's box against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen with , who had singled, on second base and , who had walked, on first. There were two outs.

Jansen started him with a cutter inside for ball one, then got two questionable called strikes -- a second cutter in and a sinker off the outside corner. Down to his last strike, Phillips laced yet another cutter, this one catching too much of the plate, into right-center field.

"What a moment for him to step up to the plate in the biggest at-bat of his life with the game on the line and come through for us," Kiermaier said. "It's a moment that no one will ever be able to take away from him and I'm so proud of him for coming up huge and winning the ballgame for us. Absolutely incredible."

Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor had the ball bounce off his glove and up into the air. Kiermaier had scored easily to tie it, but the misplay allowed Arozarena to take a chance at scoring the game-winning run. Third-base coach Rodney Linares saw an opportunity to test the Dodgers' defense, waving Arozarena around third.

"There was no hesitation," Linares said. "As soon as I saw Randy hit second and I saw the ball come up, I'm like, 'We should take a chance right here.' It's mostly instincts."

"All I was thinking about was just running hard," Arozarena added. "Run hard, as hard as I could."

Arozarena ran so fast, in fact, that he stumbled as he stepped on the third-base bag. It felt like things were happening in slow motion as Arozarena rolled to the ground. Linares said he blacked out as Arozarena went down.

As Arozarena clamored back to his feet, Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy cut off Taylor's throw, rifling the relay to catcher Will Smith. If Smith secures the throw, the Dodgers have Arozarena scrambling back toward third in a rundown. Instead, the ball ricocheted off Smith's glove, hit the home-plate umpire and rolled away just far enough to allow Arozarena to reverse course, race for home and slide in head first, safe, pounding the plate in joy.

Phillips, who had advanced to second when he saw that the throw was going home could not believe his eyes.

"Honestly, it's just hard to believe right now that that just happened," Phillips said. "Once I saw Randy slip, I thought, 'Oh, shoot at least we tied it up.' And then he missed the ball. I didn't know what happened, and then he scored and the next thing I know, I'm airplane-ing around the outfield and getting dog-piled and now here I am talking to the boys."

It was just two weeks ago that Phillips was left off the American League Championship Series roster, spending the series as a "coach" on the Rays' bench, holding up a whiteboard with inspirational messages for his teammates.

"It didn't matter that I didn't have an at-bat in the last two weeks, because I wouldn't be on the roster for the World Series if they didn't believe I could help them win in any way," Phillips said. "I know there are some guys out there with really slow heart rates that have been in this situation many times before and it's just like another day for them. But for myself, it's not, and I'm going to enjoy the heck out of it."

As Phillips entered the dugout after the top of the ninth, field coordinator Paul Hoover grabbed the Rays' outfielder and told him he was going to win the game for Tampa Bay. Phillips' shouted "Let's go!" and went into the batting cage to get a few swings in.

As Phillips was warming up, Kiermaier got the ninth-inning rally started with a one-out single. After Joey Wendle flew out to left field for the second out, Arozarena had the first opportunity to be the hero. Instead, Arozarena continued to show his impressive plate discipline, laying off a pair of close pitches from Jansen and drawing a seven-pitch walk.

"Randy has all the potential in the world to win that game for us by hitting a homer," Phillips said. "But he takes a great at-bat, he lays off some really tough pitches, and he lets the guy behind him be the hero. And that's what makes this team so special."

The person behind Arozarena just happened to be Phillips.

"It was just awesome. I'm so happy for him," manager Kevin Cash said. "We're all happy for him. From the day that we acquired him and he joined our club, he's just brought constant energy, a great teammate. Hasn't had the most opportunities, but when he's got in there, he's done some things -- none bigger than that hit right there, for sure. Local guy, too. That adds to it, I think. That helps."

There's just something about these Rays. And now they're two wins away from winning the first World Series title in franchise history.

"The baseball gods were on our side," Kiermaier said. "I was the happiest man on the plate to see Randy score as well, just so the game could be over with. Just truly incredible. I don't know if anything like that has ever happened, especially in the World Series. I don't know if we'll see it ever again. We were all a part of it. What an incredible moment to be a part of."