The Los Angeles Dodgers were just one strike away from a 3-1 lead in the 2020 World Series. Instead, the Fall Classic is tied at two games apiece. The Tampa Bay Rays won a wild back-and-forth Game 4 on Saturday night thanks to a Brett Phillips walk-off single against Kenley Jansen (TB 8, LA 7). It was Phillips' first hit since Sept. 25.
Walk-off single fails to accurately describe the play. Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor booted the ball, then catcher Will Smith was unable to reel in the relay throw at the plate. Randy Arozarena stumbled rounding third as he tried to score from first base and was dead to rights at the plate, but he was able to recover and score the winning run because Smith couldn't secure the ball.
Here's the play. Officially, it is scored a single for Phillips and errors on Taylor and Smith, and it is the first World Series walk-off hit with the team trailing since Joe Carter's iconic walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series.
"I'm about to live 15 years shorter. My God, I think I lost 10 years on that last play," Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe told reporters, including USA Today's Bob Nightengale, following Game 4. "That a storybook baseball game. That was insane.''
By win probability added, Phillips' single is the third-biggest postseason hit in the Baseball-Reference.com database. Amazingly, the Dodgers were involved in the top four. Here's the list:
- Kirk Gibson, Dodgers (0.870 WPA): two-run walk-off homer in 1998 World Series Game 1 vs. Athletics
- Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (0.830 WPA): two-run walk-off double in 2009 NLCS Game 4 vs. Dodgers
- Brett Phillips, Rays (0.827 WPA): two-run walk-off single in 2020 World Series Game 4 vs. Dodgers
- Cookie Lavagetto, Dodgers (0.820 WPA): two-run walk-off single in 1947 World Series Game 4 vs. Yankees
- Francisco Cabrera, Braves (0.740 WPA): two-run walk-off single in 1992 NLCS Game 7 vs. Pirates
So many bad things happened on the final play of Game 4. Jansen missed his spot with the pitch. Taylor booted the ball in center. Max Muncy's relay throw home was off-line. Smith didn't catch said relay throw. Arozarena stumbled and fell rounding third. And then Jansen got caught watching the play along the third base line rather than backing up home plate. Jansen not backing up the plate probably didn't matter given the angle the ball took off Smith's glove, but still, it's a bad optic.
"We needed something to go our way tonight and it did," Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters, including David Lennon of Newsday, following the game.
Keep in mind Cody Bellinger was a late scratch in center field because of back spasms and was instead in the Game 4 lineup at designated hitter. A.J. Pollock got the start in center field, then was removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. That pinch-hitter, Joc Pederson, singled in two runs to give Los Angeles a 6-5 lead. It also pushed Taylor into center field.
Bellinger is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. Does he handle the ball cleanly in the ninth inning and hold Arozarena at third base, and keep the game tied at 7-7? Would Pederson, a natural center fielder, have handled it cleanly had he played center rather than move over to left? Hard to think they'd play the ball worse than Taylor, but who knows?
Phillips is 22 for 205 (.107) in his career in two-strike counts. Also, his last at-bat was Oct. 7, and he had two at-bats total in the last 29 days. All signs pointed to him failing in that spot. Instead, Phillips came through not just with the game-winning hit, but what very well might be the biggest hit in Rays franchise history to date.
Jansen threw five pitches with two outs and two strikes in Game 4, and couldn't put the game away. Those five pitches went: ball, ball, foul, ball, walk-off single. Jansen walked Arozarena after getting ahead in the count 1-2, pushing the tying run into scoring position. The game's final pitch to Phillips was supposed to elevated up above the zone and instead stayed belt high.
Ironically, Jansen looked fantastic in the Game 3, even while allowing a solo homer to Arozarena. He'd thrown the ball very well his last few outings -- Jansen retired 12 of 13 batters faced in his last four appearances prior to Game 4 -- and had good velocity on his cutter..
"Everything started to click," Jansen told reporters, including Sportsnet's Arash Madani, prior to Game 4. "Once my delivery returns, the velo, the life, the cut, everything is going to come with it ... It's connected, it's clicking at the right time."
For the Dodgers, the Game 4 loss is gut-wrenching. Phillips is a defensive specialist and a career .202/.284/.347 hitter, and he was down 1-2 in the count. Get him out and you're one win away from the World Series! Rather than put the game away and take a commanding lead, Jansen left a cutter out over the plate, and the best-of-seven is now a best-of-three.
"I didn't give up one hard hit. What can I do?" Jansen told reporters, including Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, following Game 4. "... We know we are good. We are going to come in and win the game tomorrow."