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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Tampa Bay Rays were yelling and screaming, laughing and crying, watching the replay again and again late Saturday night on the TVs in their clubhouse.
They can’t believe what they just witnessed.
Nobody possibly could.
How can you possibly describe the wildest and zaniest finish to a World Series game anyone may have ever seen?
Where do you even start when the last guy on the bench gets his first hit in a month to tie the game, and the winning run scores after their star player stumbles, falls down, and eventually slides into home plate, slapping it five times with a smile as big as the state of Texas, with the hero running around left field impersonating an airplane.
“I can’t believe it, I saw it, and still can’t believe it,’’ said Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. “Truly incredible. I’m at a loss for words.’’
It will go down in the history books as an 8-7 Rays victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series, evening the series at 2-games apiece, but as anyone among the 11,441 fans at Globe Life Field, the millions watching on TV, may remember this game as long as they live.
“There’s about 40 people besides themselves with excitement,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the clubhouse scene, “and wondering what the hell just happened.’’
It was an epic game that has turned this World Series into a thriller, with the two teams trading punches inning after inning, scoring a World Series record eight consecutive half-innings, and culminating in one the most dramatic finishes in postseason history.
“I’m about to live 15 years shorter,’’ Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe said. “My God, I think I lost 10 years on that last play. That’s a storybook baseball game.
“That was insane.’’
And that was an understatement.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to go to bed,’’ Rays hometown hero Brett Phillips said. “I’m just too excited.’’This had been a World Series in which there had not been a single lead change, and only once had a team come to the plate with the tying run on base in the late innings, only to witness a roller-coaster adventure that was beyond belief.
Let’s skip ahead to the ninth inning where the Rays were trailing, 7-6, and were three outs away from being down 3-1 in the Series.
The Dodgers, who had finally trusted Kenley Jensen again to be their closer, came out in the ninth. He struck out pinch-hitter Yoshi Tsutsugo, the 21st Rays’ player to appear in the game, tying a World Series record. Jensen then shattered Kevin Kiermaier’s bat, with the head of the bat flying to shallow left field, and the ball to barely got over the head of second baseman Kike' Hernandez.
Joey Wendle then lined out to left field.
Randy Arozarena, who produced three more hits and tied the record for 26 hits in the postseason, walked to the plate. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts walked to the mound. They could intentionally walk Arozarena, but that would be putting the tying run into scoring position. They decided to instead pitch to him, but carefully.
Arozarena, who was quickly down 1-2 in the count, worked a full count, and fouled off an 82-mph slider. Jensen came back with an 84-mph slider, but bounced it in the dirt. He flung his bat and walked to first.
Up stepped Phillips, who grew up in the Tampa area as a diehard Rays’ fan, was in the eighth grade when the Rays last went to the World Series in 2008. He hadn’t even had a plate appearance in 10 days. His last hit was a month ago on Sept. 25.
Phillips, who had entered the game in the eighth inning as a pinch-runner, took 10 swings in the indoor batting cage, returned to the bench, when Rays coach Paul Hoover leaned over and told him:
“Let’s go win this thing.’’
Phillips nodded, and said, “You already know.’’
He stepped to the plate, and Jansen threw him noting but cut fastballs. Ball 1. Strike 1 looking. Strike 2 looking.
The next pitch, a 92.4 mph cutter, hung over the plate, Phillips swung, and watched it land in shallow right-center field.
Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor tried to scoop it up, but it shot off his glove. Kiermaier scored from second base, tying the game, but once Rays third base coach Rodney Linares saw that Taylor didn’t field it cleanly, he wildly waved his arms, sending Arozarena home.
“When I saw the ball leave his glove, and the ball go up in the air,’’ Linares said, “I thought, 'He has to pick it up. Randy’s one of the fastest runners we got.'’’
Taylor grabbed the ball, threw a perfect strike to cutoff man Max Muncy, and halfway to home, Arozarena stumbled, and fell. He had no chance to score.
“As soon as he rounded third,’’ Linares said, “ I saw the helmet fly off and hit his foot. I saw him stumble. 'No. No. no.'’’
Arozarena quickly got up, and was headed back to third, only Muncy's throw to catcher Will Smith went off his glove and ended up behind the backstop.
Jensen, who should have been backing up the play, had dropped to his knees in utter frustration. Arozarena got back to his feet, turned back toward home, dove and slapped his right palm on home plate.
“That was incredible,’’ Arozarena said. “It was one of those games with both teams going back and forth, both teams fighting until the end, trying to win the World Series.’’
This was the first walk-off hit with a team trailing since Joe Carter’s homer to end the 1993 World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The previous one?
Kirk Gibson’s homer in the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers, which, yes, is still the last time the Dodgers have won the title.
Roberts watched in disbelief, slammed his hands on the railing, turned around, and then took off his cap with two hands, and angrily slapped it down.
“It just kind of spun out,’’ Roberts said. “I wasn’t really prepared for a walk-off in that situation.’’
The next think you know, Phillips is running around the outfield with his arms outstretched like an airplane.
“I took off like an airplane,’’ Phillips said, “but little did I know I exhausted all of my energy doing the airplane. Then I had no energy or breath to yell. I had to get out of the doggy pile.
“I was really close to passing out.’’
Why, Phillips, who has the most infectious laugh in baseball, almost passed out when he heard the names of the last players who had game-winning hits with their team trailing. He was thrilled just to be mentioned in the same breath as Dan Johnson, whose infamous homer back in 2008 lifted the Rays to the playoffs.
“This is the best feeling in the world,’’ Phillips said, over and over.
The Rays, to a man, will tell you it was the greatest victory they’ve ever been part of in their lives.
There are three games left now. The Dodgers will be starting three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and October hero Walker Buehler in two of them.
Yet, after what they just witnessed on Saturday night, they can’t help but wonder if the baseball Gods have their back.
“I don’t know if anything like that has ever happened, especially in the World Series,’’ said Kiermaier, who homered in the seventh inning, with the Rays becoming the first World Series team to homer in four consecutive innings. “I don’t know if we’ll ever see it again. But we’re all part of it. What and incredible moment.
“We really feel good about ourselves. This is something that can propel a team.’’
Not just for a night, or a single series, but forever.
“Man, baseball is fun,’’ Phillips said. “Wow!’’
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