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Rays even World Series with Dodgers in unbelievable fashion
What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale recounts being on hand for one of the more wild finishes to a World Series game you’ll ever see as the Tampa Bay Rays evened up the series 2-2 with the Dodgers.
This is what going from journeyman outfielder to World Series hero looks like through the eyes of Brett Phillips:
Five hundred text messages from family, former teammates and your best friend with whom you acted out moments like the one you lived Saturday night in winning Game 4. A pile of teammates gunning for you in the outfield. The bright smiles of faces beaming your way, reflecting the glow you profess to give off to others.
This is what it feels like to win Game 4 of the World Series for your hometown team, squaring it at two games apiece and aligning the Tampa Bay Rays to win a championship:
Dehydrated. A resting heart rate of 140. Trainers hurriedly hooking you up to an IV to replenish lost fluids. Orders from doctors to “chill you out, chill you down.” A pounding migraine.
And the Rays couldn’t be more thrilled for their biggest postseason hero in nearly a decade.
Phillips, ever quick to make friends, left a trail of them through stops in the Houston, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Tampa Bay organizations, the latter importing him on Aug. 31 to linger on the end of the roster, pinch-run, serve as a defensive replacement and, once in a great while, start a game against a left-hander.
He had just three hits as a Ray when he was summoned as the last man of the bench, bottom of the ninth, Rays down a run, two runners on. His subsequent base hit and Randy Arozarena’s crazy-legged spin around the bases that provided a walk-off, 7-6 victory will forever live in baseball lore.
That it was provided by a guy who was left off the roster in the AL Championship Series, yet brought the same engaging spirit to the clubhouse every day.
“He said, I’m going to be a great coach-slash-teammate-slash white board writer,” Rays lefty and locker neighbor Blake Snell said of Phillips, who used a dugout whiteboard to etch encouraging phrases and acronyms in the playoffs. “He took it as a positive, not as, ‘Why am I not on this roster?’ He turned it into a positive, which just speaks to his character.
“He hasn’t had a hit since September 25th? Then he comes into the ballgame and has the biggest hit of his life. “
His teammates weren’t aware of his post-celebration first aid until they gathered for a nightly round of shout-outs led by outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who scored the winning run of Game 4. Yet the biggest hero was in the trainer’s room, receiving treatment.
Playing the hero is a scenario Phillips played out back home in Seminole, Florida, with his best friend, Mike Mann, who’d become the best man at his wedding. Back then, growing up 12 miles away from Tropicana Field, they were inspired by the exploits of Dan Johnson, who fit a familiar profile: Journeyman left-handed hitter who’d be best known for pinch-hitting.
He keyed Rays pennant pushes in 2008 and 2011 with late home runs, the latter setting up Evan Longoria’s famous playoff-clinching walk-off on the final day of the ’11 season.
“We did that exact scenario when we were 12 years old, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth,” Phillips recalled of his backyard games. “That’s what kids need to realize – have those dreams. Have that work ethic and treat people with love and respect.
“You may not be a major league ballplayer, but things will look up for you in life. Continue to love and respect people – it comes back to you, I promise.”
Phillips, 26, always brought high energy and became known for his passion in and around the game – be it as an avid Fortnite player with fellow big leaguers, his infectious and viral laugh and, of late, his postgame dance-offs with the great Arozarena following the Rays’ series-clinching victories.
He’s never played in more than 51 games or had more than 147 plate appearances in a season, yet his speed and defensive skill keeps him in the big leagues, even if on the fringes of the roster.
His affability probably doesn’t hurt, either.
“It’s icing on the cake that it’s Brett Phillips,” says Rays manager Kevin Cash. “He hasn’t had the best opportunities since we acquired him. But he’s been the best teammate.”