The Tampa Bay Rays couldn't have picked a better time to get the big hit that has largely eluded them this postseason. But even for one of the most innovative clubs in baseball, how it happened in Game 4 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night was far from how anyone could have drawn it up.
It started with Brett Phillips, who stepped into the batter's box with two outs, two men on and his team trailing 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth. Phillips, who was left off the American League Championship Series roster and was hitless since Sept. 25, had entered the game in the top of the inning as a defensive replacement. He wasn't expected to be the guy in the spot to have to deliver, but there he was.
Phillips did his job with a looping single to right, and from there, anarchy ensued. When the dust settled, the Rays had won 8-7, completing an improbable comeback to forge an unlikely 2-2 tie in the best-of-seven series against the heavily favored Dodgers at Arlington, Texas.
Kevin Kiermaier came around to score from second on Phillips' single; but behind him Randy Arozarena seemed dead to rights at the plate after doing a full somersault on his way home. But through a series of Dodgers misplays that culminated with catcher Will Smith having the ball get away from him, Arozarena dove home for the wild walk-off win.
"The baseball gods were on our side," said Kiermaier. "I was the happiest man on the planet to see Randy score so the game could be over with. I couldn't take any more from that point on."
"I think I lost 10 years on that last play," added teammate Brandon Lowe.
"Man, baseball is fun," Phillips offered succinctly.
Los Angeles center fielder Chris Taylor was charged with an error on the final play.
"It was like an (imperfect) storm," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "Just unfortunate."
The ninth inning was far from the only hectic part in a game that turned into a back-and-forth slugfest in the late innings. Corey Seager had given the Dodgers a 7-6 lead with an RBI single in the eighth. He finished with a home run and four hits, as did Justin Turner, as all seven Los Angeles runs were scored with two outs.
"It didn't go our way today," said Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen (0-1). "It was a tough battle. We're all confident we're going to come back and turn the page."
Game 5 will take place Sunday.
Lowe hit a three-run home run for the Rays, and Arozarena, Hunter Renfroe and Kiermaier each hit solo shots. John Curtiss (1-0) earned the win in relief.
"I wish I had better words to describe what the club is feeling like right now," said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash.
The Dodgers led 4-2 entering the bottom of the sixth before Lowe hit his third homer of the series - a three-run opposite-field blast off Pedro Baez that put the Rays ahead. Los Angeles wasted no time battling back as Seager singled and Turner doubled to start the seventh.
After two strikeouts, Cody Bellinger was intentionally walked to load the bases for pinch-hitter Joc Pederson. Pederson's two-run single off the glove of Lowe at second gave the Dodgers a 6-5 edge.
Kiermaier knotted the score at six with a homer off Baez in the bottom of the seventh.
"Now it's a three-game series," said Roberts. "We've got Clayton (Kershaw) going tomorrow, and our focus has to turn to winning."
Turner homered in the first inning for the second straight game -- a first in World Series history. It was his 12th career homer as a Dodger in the playoffs, a franchise record.
Seager slugged his eighth blast in the third to temporarily tie for the single-postseason mark, but Arozarena grabbed sole possession of that record when he hit his ninth of the playoffs to lead off the fourth. With three hits, Arozarena also tied Pablo Sandoval in 2014 for most hits in a postseason with 26.
Max Muncy's RBI single in the fifth gave Los Angeles a 3-1 lead before Tampa Bay got back within one on Renfroe's homer in the bottom of the inning. An Enrique Hernandez run-scoring double in the sixth made it 4-2 Dodgers.
Julio Urias started for Los Angeles, allowing two runs on four hits in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out nine. Ryan Yarbrough surrendered two runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings for Tampa Bay.
--Field Level Media