Resilient Rays display moxie in epic fashion

October 25th, 2020

In the end, the hero of Game 4 was a reserve outfielder -- not quite the last man off the bench, but almost -- who was left off the Rays’ American League Championship Series roster. Even figured he probably wasn’t manager Kevin Cash’s preferred option to bat with two on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a World Series game.

“I’m sure he was probably like, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no,’” Phillips said. “‘We’ve got to go to the last guy on the bench?’”

But that’s the thing about the Rays, one of the reasons they’re now tied with the Dodgers in the World Series after Saturday’s unbelievable, back-and-forth, 8-7 win at Globe Life Field: They are built on their depth. Their success stems from the idea that everybody has a part to play. And there might not be a better example of their greatest strength than the way Game 4 played out.

Ultimately it was Phillips who delivered the game-winning hit off Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning. But he was the 20th of 21 players to enter the game for Tampa Bay, matching the record for a nine-inning World Series game previously held by the 1947 Yankees and ’61 Reds. It would have been 23 if the game had gone another inning, with Michael Perez ready to catch and either Blake Snell or Tyler Glasnow set to pitch the 10th.

“I think that’s how we’re built where everybody recognizes, whatever role they’re asked, they’re going to give their best effort possible to come through for the club and for their teammates,” Cash said. “That’s what they did tonight.”

It wasn’t just Phillips, either. Consider the players who homered for the Rays against the star-studded Dodgers, who struck back every time Tampa Bay landed a punch Saturday night. There was at least one run scored in eight consecutive half-innings, in fact, the longest streak in World Series history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

You can now find Randy Arozarena’s name atop a bunch of postseason leaderboards, but he was hardly a known commodity entering October. He only played in 23 games for Tampa Bay this season, yet he is now the central figure in their lineup amid one of the greatest playoff performances in history. His solo shot to right-center in the fourth inning made it a 2-1 game and gave the Rays some hope after a strong start by Julio Urías.

Hunter Renfroe, who hit .156 in the regular season and entered Game 4 with three hits in 17 plate appearances this postseason, got the start in right field (but ended the game at first base) and kept the Rays within a run by taking Urías deep to left-center in the fifth inning.

Brandon Lowe, the Rays’ star second baseman who badly slumped through the first three rounds of the postseason, continued his return to form in the World Series by clubbing a go-ahead, three-run homer to left-center off Pedro Báez in the sixth inning. Cash dropped Lowe to fifth in the lineup to start Game 4, stacking the top of the order with right-handed hitters against the lefty Urías.

Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player, tied the game at 6 with a solo shot off Báez in the seventh. It was the sixth game-tying homer in World Series history by a No. 9 hitter and the first since Chili Davis in Game 3 of the 1991 World Series.

“It’s a testament to the team that got put together. It doesn’t matter who you have in the lineup to start the game, who is on the bench,” Lowe said. “Everyone can get used at any time, and everyone’s going to come in ready to produce. And it showed today.”

That concept extends to their pitching staff, too, beyond the flame-throwing, late-inning arms who make up “The Stable.” It wasn’t a great night overall on that front, as seven pitchers combined to allow 15 hits, but the only two relievers who put together scoreless outings exemplify Tampa Bay’s depth.

Right-hander Ryan Thompson, initially acquired in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, relieved starter Ryan Yarbrough and recorded two outs to finish the fourth inning before Cash turned to Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo. And righty John Curtiss, signed to a Minor League contract in February, recorded the final four outs after taking over for Nick Anderson.

“We’ve had some pretty exciting moments here in this 2020 postseason. This one is right there to go back and forth with a couple others,” Cash said. “Just looking back at how many people played such a big role -- Hunter, Randy, K.K. 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.”

“In baseball, this is probably the most fun that you can have next to, like, a walk-off homer in the World Series, just because it was a collective group of guys who came together,” added Phillips. “Everyone pulled their weight tonight to win. Honestly, you can’t say that all the time about baseball. That’s what makes this win so special and shows, again, why Cash is the man, letting me take the at-bat there.”

The Rays pride themselves on playing for each other, on battling back and proving that they can hang with teams that possess higher payrolls or more household names. So, did this one have all the characteristics of a classic, iconic Rays win? 

All that and more, Kiermaier said.

"I'd say outs one through 26 was very Rays-like, sitting here going back-and-forth,” he said. “But with that last opportunity to come to the plate, I don't know if that's a Rays win or a win that anyone could ever describe or imagine."