5 key win-probability shifts from wild WS G4

October 25th, 2020

The enduring image from Saturday night will surely be that of Brett Phillips sprinting around the outfield grass at Globe Life Field in Arlington, doing his “airplane run” after delivering the biggest hit of his life -- or perhaps that of Randy Arozarena lying next to home plate in a daze, slapping his right hand down on home plate again and again, as if trying to prove to himself that he really had just scored the winning run in Tampa Bay’s 8-7 walk-off win win over the Dodgers.

That moment will go down in World Series history -- especially if the Rays go on to win it all.

Still, that play alone can’t possibly do this game justice. It was, in reality, the knockout punch -- a historic, can’t-possibly-have-dreamt-it-up moment -- in a heavyweight battle that saw a dizzying array of back-and-forth blows traded from the bottom of the fourth inning until the ninth, when the dust finally settled around Arozarena.

According to Baseball-Reference’s calculation of championship win probability, the Dodgers had an 81% chance of winning the title before that play and a 52% chance after it, marking the second-largest such swing on a single play in a non-elimination World Series game.

“I’m about to live 15 years shorter,” Brandon Lowe said. “I think that kind of sums it up. My God, 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.”

A Fall Classic that hadn’t seen a lead change through the first three games went through three from the sixth inning on, making it the first such game in World Series history, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Tampa Bay and Los Angeles combined to score in eight consecutive half-innings -- crushing the previous World Series record of six that had been set in 1947.

The win probability graph for the game is truly a sight to behold. Reflective of the frenetic pulses of all those watching, it darts between the Rays and Dodgers an unbelievable nine times from the sixth inning on, slowly trending toward a Los Angeles win all the while -- until the final play.

At minimum, this game deserves a look back at the five biggest win-probability swings on that chart.

1) Phillips’ RBI single and Dodgers’ game-ending errors
Bottom of the 9th
Score before: Dodgers 7, Rays 6
Score after: Rays 8, Dodgers 7
WPA: 81%

Even without considering the wealth of storylines and context -- intended defensive replacement and lifelong Rays fan Phillips hitting for the first time in 17 days, the misplay in center, the trip and fall, the missed catch at home -- this play was historic. It certainly felt as much in real time, and the numbers back that up.

By win probability added, this was the third-most pivotal play in World Series history -- behind the only two other come-from-behind, game-winning plays with two outs in the ninth inning. The first? Kirk Gibson’s legendary homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the A’s. The second? Cookie Lavagetto’s walk-off two-run double in Game 4 of the 1947 Fall Classic to break up Bill Bevens’ no-hitter and hand the Brooklyn Dodgers a win over the Yankees.

Phillips is now a part of that historic club -- and perhaps its unlikeliest member. It still hasn’t sunk in.

“I feel like, yeah, I got a World Series game-winning hit, but it's tough to hear my name in those kinds of sentences with those guys,” Phillips said. “But it's special. I feel blessed. That's all I can say about that. I feel blessed."

Before Kenley Jansen delivered his fateful 1-2 pitch, the Dodgers had an 81% chance to win and claim a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Then, he left a cutter over the plate, Phillips drove it to right-center for his first hit in a month, center fielder Chris Taylor couldn’t field the ball, Arozarena tripped after rounding third, Will Smith missed the catch at the plate -- and the rest is history. Literally.

2) Lowe’s clutch three-run homer
Bottom of the 6th
Score before: Dodgers 4, Rays 2
Score after: Rays 5, Dodgers 4
WPA: 35%

The Rays’ offense clawed its way to the Fall Classic despite getting next to no production from Lowe, their regular-season MVP. The second baseman entered the series 6-for-52 (.115) with only one extra-base hit -- a homer -- in the first three rounds of the postseason.

It bodes very well for the Rays that their most important bat has exploded to life with three homers in the World Series. The third couldn’t have come at a bigger time.

With the Rays trailing, 4-2, in the bottom of the sixth inning, Arozarena singled and Ji-Man Choi walked to set up a one-out opportunity for Lowe, who dropped to the No. 5 hole in a new-look lineup. He saw nothing but pitches outside from Pedro Báez and was able to extend his arms on a fastball, crushing a three-run homer to left-center that gave Tampa Bay its first lead since Game 2 on Wednesday night.

“I was able to step out and tell myself, ‘Hey man, you can’t pull this guy. The splitter’s too good. You have to go the other way. You have to stay through the baseball,’” Lowe said. “To say I was trying to hit it out, there was no part of me that was trying to hit that ball out. I was just able to square it up at a good angle.”

All three of Lowe’s homers in the World Series have gone to the opposite field. None of his 14 regular-season blasts went that way. That’s how baseball is.

“I might as well at this point never pull a baseball again,” Lowe joked.

3) Pederson strikes back with two-run single off Lowe’s glove
Top of the 7th
Score before: Rays 5, Dodgers 4
Score after: Dodgers 6, Rays 5
WPA: 24%

Rays bullpen ace Nick Anderson had been one of the top relievers in baseball -- if not the best -- during the regular season. His 0.55 ERA and .320 opponents’ OPS has inexplicably given way to six straight playoff outings with at least one run allowed, likely due in part to a more strenuous postseason workload.

The Rays hardly had time to enjoy the lead Lowe had given them when Corey Seager and Justin Turner opened the seventh with hits off Aaron Loup, and Anderson was one out away from ending the inning when pinch-hitter Joc Pederson lined a ball into the shifted infield that caromed off the glove of a diving Lowe and landed in right field for a go-ahead two-run hit.

Though the ball had an expected batting average of .960, per Statcast, the Rays had their fielders in place -- just barely not close enough to make the play.

“There’s no letup in that lineup at all,” Lowe said. “That play was extremely frustrating for me, especially just because it hit my glove. Full extension, whatever, you can make excuses and stuff like that, nothing that would take me from thinking I should’ve reeled that ball in if it hit my glove.”

4) Seager’s knock gives Dodgers another late lead
Top of the 8th
Score before: Dodgers 6, Rays 6
Score after: Dodgers 7, Rays 6
WPA: 22%

Since both Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo had already thrown, Rays manager Kevin Cash needed another inning out of Anderson to conserve a bullpen that got so depleted that Game 6 starter Blake Snell was warming up toward the end of the game. Anderson coughed up a leadoff double to Taylor, and three batters later, the red-hot Seager blooped a single barely over the head of shortstop Willy Adames to put the Dodgers back on top.

Earlier in the game, Seager had matched the record for homers in a single postseason with his eighth -- until Arozarena clubbed his ninth to claim the record for himself. This was the 57th run scored by the Dodgers this postseason with two outs, the most of all time.

“It’s not the most comforting feeling,” Cash said. “They get the early runs. We answer back. Then they answer again. We just couldn’t stop them, and that’s a credit to how talented that club is. Top to bottom, they’re so thick and challenging.”

5) Kiermaier ties it again with a towering homer
Bottom of the 7th
Score before: Dodgers 6, Rays 5
Score after: Dodgers 6, Rays 6
WPA: 21%

After taking Clayton Kershaw deep in Game 1 on Tuesday night, Kiermaier got ahold of another on Saturday and crushed one of the biggest hits of his career with a 426-foot no-doubter to right off Báez that again tied the game after Pederson had just given the Dodgers the lead.

“I take blame for having [Báez] go back out, because we were down, and then I told him he was finished,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “To ask him to go back out, and he said he felt good, but you know, I shouldn't have said that and just kind of kept him burning a little bit.”

In addition to marking Kiermaier’s fourth postseason home run, the blast also made the Rays the first team to hit a homer in four consecutive innings in a playoff game. Kiermaier’s shot followed a fourth-inning homer from Arozarena, a fifth-inning clout from Hunter Renfroe and Lowe’s sixth-inning blast.

“Just looking back at how many people played such a big role -- Hunter, Randy, [Kiermaier] answering back. Our pitchers -- John Curtiss right there, to navigate and keep it right there within striking distance. We needed something to go our way tonight, and it did,” said Cash.