Because baseball turned into pinball, we’re thinking more about Mookie Wilson than Mookie Betts.
Because Chris Taylor took a peek at the action and looked away from the baseball, Clayton Kershaw is pitching to tilt a world Series on Sunday, not to win it.
Because Will Smith decided to maneuver a baseball before he actually caught it, Kenley Jansen remains associated with bumps in the night instead of strike-three handshakes.
None of that fully explains the runaway train of a Game 4 on Saturday that suddenly crashed into the Bad News Bears.
The Dodgers were one strike away from taking a 3-1 lead in this World Series. Just one fewer misplay would have kept the score tied. Instead, Brett Phillips singled with two out on Jansen’s 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth, and suddenly we were all attending a night at the Improv. Whose game is it anyway? Two runs scored and made it Tampa Bay’s game, 8-7, and now the Dodgers have to win two out of three to nail down their first world championship since Ronald Reagan was President.
Baseball, there you go again.
“It was an un-perfect storm,” said Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager, who could not stifle his frustration and anger at the moment the Jenga tower crashed down.
In 1986 Bill Buckner allowed Wilson’s grounder to roll through his legs, and the Red Sox lost a chance to win their first World Series since 1918. That was a one-car pileup. This was a chain reaction on the freeway.
The Dodgers had methodically answered every Tampa Bay comeback to get to the bottom of the ninth with a 7-6 lead. Corey Seager had picked up four hits, Joc Pederson had produced a two-run, two-out, go-ahead hit as a pinch-hitter, and Seager had floated an RBI single in the eighth to give L.A. the last lead it would presumably need.
Brusdar Graterol had bustled in and overpowered the Rays in the eighth. That summoned Jansen to pitch the ninth. That, of course, sparked a cacophonous Greek chorus of second-guessing toward Roberts, but the truth is that if Roberts messed anything up, it was his insistence on using Pedro Baez and watching him give up two go-ahead and tying home runs to left-handed hitters in consecutive innings.
The Dodgers had lifted Roberts off that hook. Jansen has been throwing well. He did on Saturday, too.
Jansen shattered enough wood on Kevin Kiermaier’s base hit to build a mousetrap. Kiermaier stood on first base with the handle in his hand and not much else. Then Jansen walked Arozarena, which isn’t ideal when he is the winning run. Still, there were two outs when Phillips comes up.
Phillips was a .202 hitter this season. He is a former Astro/Brewer/Royal who came to Tampa Bay on Aug. 27 and hadn’t had a hit since Sept. 25. He was left off the ALCS roster and would have been couch-bound in a normal year when only 25 men get dressed for the playoffs.
Folks in Lancaster might remember him as a scorching hitter for the JetHawks in 2015. But here he was just a guy who would stand on the dugout’s top step and write “Randy Good Player” on his clipboard after Arozarena would hit his daily home run in the playoffs. Later, Phillips would write, “Randy>Your Favorite Player.”
But now he was standing, unsmiling, on the bridge. Jansen’s cutter was sharp when he got to that 1-and-2 count. The 92 mph fastball that followed was straight. Phillips got a legitimate single, and then the world stopped turning.
Taylor was in center. Cody Bellinger was DH-ing because of back spasms. Taylor basically won an NLCS as a center fielder in 2018 when he dived to catch Christian Yelich’s drive in Milwaukee. He has no problem playing there.
Kiermaier was scoring, but Taylor was looking for Arozarena. The ball snow-coned in his webbing and then scooted away, and Arozarena was so excited that he hit high gear, coming around third, and … fell.
Yeah, he just went backside-over-teakettle halfway down the line, in front of coach Ozzie Timmons. But Smith didn’t know that.
Cutoff man Max Muncy made the throw, and Smith was already thinking about the sweep tag he needed to execute. The game wasn’t slowing down for him, either. He swept, and the ball bounced off his mitt as Arozarena was trying to figure out what to do. Jansen was not backing up Smith on the play. The ball rolled to the place where bad Dodger losses are stored. Arozarena went in head-first and pounded the home plate with his right hand, like a wrestling referee counting out a victim.
Phillips was one of the few who saw none of that. He had no idea what happened to Arozarena.
“All I know is that I’ve got a blazing headache right now,” Phillips said. “I just got a hit and started running and now all the boys are happy. It’s the most excited I’ve been since the day I got married.”
The Dodgers have scored 25 runs in these four games and won two of them. They keep beating up on the Rays’ best relievers. They get fine starting pitching, at least for as long as Roberts will let those starters pitch. Julio Arias had eight strikeouts in 4-2/3 innings, but he gave up two solo home runs and was gone.
“We’ll do what we always do,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “After every game, we go back and evaluate what happened. It’s going to be the same way here.”
Nothing will be the same as this.