And it all happened because Phillips — Brett Phillips! — ignited one of the wildest endings ever, putting his name beside Hal Smith, Brian Doyle and Geoff Blum among the least likely World Series stars.
Phillips, 26, has been traded three times in the last six seasons, most recently from Kansas City to Tampa Bay in late August. He is a .202 career hitter, but appealed to the Rays as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. He appeared in those roles in the early playoff rounds — going hitless in two at-bats — but was dropped from the roster for the American League Championship Series.
Until Saturday, Phillips was best known as the guy with the breathless, honking laugh on YouTube, the dugout cheerleader with a whiteboard salute for his hot-hitting teammate, Randy Arozarena: “Rakes All Night Day Year.” (The first letters spell “Randy,” get it?) He was not the hitter Manager Kevin Cash wanted as the team’s last hope.
“I’m sure he was probably like, ‘Oh no, we’ve got to go to the last guy on the bench,’” Phillips said, stifling a laugh, but he was right. The Rays had only one other position player, catcher Michael Perez, and they needed to save him for defense in case of a tie. (Cash had just removed the starter, Mike Zunino, for a pinch-hitter.)
Phillips had entered as a pinch-runner for Ji-Man Choi in the eighth, when the Rays left two men on to stop the game’s string of eight consecutive run-scoring half-innings, a World Series record. They had fallen behind, taken a lead, fallen behind again, tied it, and then fallen behind a third time.
“I’d say outs 1 through 26 were very Rays-like, going back and forth,” said center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who shattered his bat (the barrel flew all the way to the outfield grass) on a one-out single in the ninth. “But with that last opportunity to come to the plate, I don’t know if that’s a Rays win or a win that anybody can describe or imagine.”
A coach, Paul Hoover, had told Phillips between innings that he would win the game, inspiring Phillips to take a few swings in a batting cage. But he did so against a left-handed staffer, guessing that if his spot came up, the Dodgers would call for a lefty. Jansen stayed in, so the session had been a waste.