Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Rays evened the 2020 World Series against the Dodgers at two games apiece thanks to a Brett Phillips walk-off single against Kenley Jansen (TB 8, LA 7). It's not just that Tampa avoided falling in a 3-1 hole, but it's how it happened.
In the first back-and-forth game of this year's Fall Classic, the Dodgers lost a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning on a three-run home run from Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe. The clubs exchanged runs in the seventh to tie the game back up. Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager then hit a two-out, two-strike RBI single into center field to break the 6-6 tie in the eighth inning.
Los Angeles was just six outs away from being one game away from the title.
Top 1: Dodgers score— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) October 25, 2020
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But the true craziness would ensue in the bottom of the ninth. Phillips came up to face Jansen with two on and two outs. Phillips, 26, was left off the Rays' ALCS roster and had only just entered Game 4 as a pinch runner in the eighth inning. Falling to a 1-2 count, Phillips knocked a cutter from Jansen for a bloop single into center field. Kevin Kiermaier (who reached base on a broken-bat single) scored uncontested to tie the game at 7-7.
But Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor mishandled the ball off Phillips' bat and from there L.A. followed an unfortunate series of events that allowed Randy Arozarena (who walked with two outs and fell down on his way to the plate) to score the winning run. Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy's relay to home plate wasn't great, catcher Will Smith didn't make the catch and Jansen didn't bother to back up home plate after Phillips' bloop fell in for a hit.
As Phillips, the unlikely Game 4 hero, said after the game, "Man, baseball is fun. Wow."
Here's a full replay of the happenings:
And if you want to watch every pitch from the wild bottom of the ninth inning, we've got you covered there too.
It took 10 seconds for the Dodgers to go from an 83 percent win expectancy and a 3-1 series lead to a loss and a 2-2 tie.
In Cameron Crowe's 2011 film, "We Bought a Zoo," Matt Damon's character says: "Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it."
Turn outs that in this case, all the Rays needed was 10 seconds of embarrassing misplays from the Dodgers for something great to come out of Game 4 of the World Series in one of the remarkable finishes in MLB postseason history.
As such, we've decided to take it upon ourselves to relive those 10 seconds of chaos to rank all of the Dodgers' mishaps from the final play of Game 4, from least consequential to most.
4. Muncy's relay throw
So, we can probably assume that a run was going to be scored off Phillips' single. But, just one run. A second run, from first base, scoring on a shallow-ish single in center is not as likely. (That is, if you execute a good relay to home plate). That one run just ties up the game. Extra innings is not nearly as bad as what actually happened at the end of Game 4. In this scenario, it's impossible to say that one mistake that led to the loss since it was a series of blunders that caused this collapse for the Dodgers.
But for the fourth-worst mishap, let's take a look at Muncy's throw to Smith.
Even ignoring the fact that Arozarena fell down after rounding third, a lot was happening here on the Dodgers' end. Muncy acted as Taylor's cut-off man before firing a quick relay to Smith at the plate. But a few issues here:
1. Taylor's throw should have been a clear target to Smith right at home plate to prevent that second run from scoring. Keep it a play at the plate.
2. Muncy's throw to Smith was as off-target as Taylor's throw. In rewatching the play, you can see that Smith hesitates for a second and adjusts his spot at the play, just as Muncy's aiming the ball to him. It's quick, but noticeable.
As a result, Muncy's throw doesn't even get near Smith's glove, and Smith isn't able to corral the ball. So, basically, I'd label this Muncy throw as error 2A of the final sequence. We'll get to 2B -- Smith's mishandling at the plate -- in a second.
3. Jansen not backing up
I'm going with Jansen not backing up at home for the third-worst mostly because it just looked so bad. Also, it's another 'what could have been?' moment in the bizarre end to Game 4. Sure, Arozarena is super fast but technically, Jansen was a step or two ahead when the ball got away and honestly, who knows how differently this could have played out. Arozarena was on his way back to third as Muncy made the cut off throw to Smith, maybe if Jansen was already ready to backup if necessary, he would have gotten Arozarena in time or caught him in a run down. Who knows? It's hard to analyze this since so many other factors were in play here.
Regardless, a basic, fundamental skill learned during the early days of youth baseball and softball is -- if you're a pitcher -- covering the plate and backing up your catcher. The pitcher should always back up the catcher. It's not long for players to have this become an instinct.
I mean, not only did Jansen -- a 33-year-old 11-year MLB veteran -- just not do this, he didn't even attempt to. I get the frustration, I get it. This was Jansen's fourth blown save in a World Series game. That's gotta sting. It's the most of any pitcher in MLB history. But the game isn't over until Arozarena touches the plate. And the fact of the matter is now we never know what could have happened if Jansen was there to track down the ball.
Out of all those involved in the final sequence -- Taylor, Muncy, Smith, Jansen -- Jansen was the only one to speak with the media after the loss. He answered candidly, but mostly deflected when asked why he did not back up home plate.
"It doesn't matter," Jansen told reporters. "I didn't give up one hard hit. What can I do? Can't do anything with that. I throw the pitches where I wanted to, and credit to the [Rays] hitters like I said. A broken-bat single, and then a bloop single. Ain't no time to hang our head, tomorrow's another day. Whenever we get into that situation again, the same situation, get in there and compete and help our team win."
2. Taylor's error in center field
Our second-worst is the first error that kicked off the entire sequence: Chris Taylor booting Phillips' single in center field. Before we get to looking at what happened, we're just going to recap how we got here.
Taylor was only playing in center field because Cody Bellinger's back had tightened up. Bellinger would instead act as DH for Saturday night's game. Furthermore, Taylor had started the game in left field but moved over to center after Joc Pederson pinch hit for starting center fielder A.J. Pollock in the seventh. That's some Newton's third law right there.
Now, onto the actual error from Taylor -- originally the one and only error charged on the play; Smith was later charged with one as well after a scoring change. Taylor boots the play and the ball bounces off his glove. That extra moment gave Arozarena nearly three extra seconds than if the ball was fielded cleanly. The error alone wasn't the reason Arozarena was able to score the game-winning run, but the error alone gave Arozarena the chance to be able to score all the way from first base even after tripping.
1. Smith missing ball, tag at home
Ugh, this was rough. The 25-year-old Dodgers catcher just completely whiffed on the throw from Muncy. It's not easy to tell what exactly happened on the default camera from the broadcast. There's a split second where Smith takes his eyes off the ball, or loses focus on the ball to check on the runner in Arozarena. That's all it took for him to let the ball pass him completely. He goes for the tag -- without the ball in his glove -- before realizing that he, in fact, did not have the ball in his glove.
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At the moment of Muncy's throw to Smith, Arozarena is literally on the ground and not even halfway to the plate.
It's hard to imagine that without this gaffe from Smith that this would have ever resulted in a run.
There's not going to be much time for the Dodgers to regroup as Game 5 is scheduled for Sunday night. The two clubs will now play a best-of-three series for the 2020 championship title.
It'll be ace lefty Clayton Kershaw on the mound against right-hander Tyler Glasnow. Both starters will be making their second appearance in this series after they faced each other in Game 1. Kershaw threw six innings and held the Rays to a run on two hits and a walk, and struck out eight batters. Glasnow permitted the Dodgers to score six runs on three hits and six walks in his Game 1 start. Here's how you can watch Game 5.