Brett Maverick Phillips, this is your life.
A man the Dodgers barely knew, perhaps the least known of the almost-famous Tampa Bay Rays, got a base hit that the Dodgers turned into the hand grenade that might, just might, explode their well-planned dreams.
Phillips came into this boiling Game 4 in the ninth inning. Kenley Jansen was in there to protect a one-run lead. With two on, Phillips hit a single into right-center. Kevin Kiermaier scored the tying run, and Randy Arozarena, who has come from the Scrabble board to dominate this postseason, took a header when he got past third base.
Except the ball got boxed around by Chris Taylor in center-field. Azorarena got up and found himself in no man’s land. Or through the looking glass. The throw came from Max Muncy, it popped out of Will Smith’s glove, it rolled into the place where all these Dodger October losses are stored, and Azorarena stumbled across the plate, and the Rays had won, 8-7.
Azorarena just lay there and pounded the plate like a wrestling ref, counting out a loser. The Dodgers had shown their length and breadth in fighting off the Rays for eight-and-a-half innings. Now they have to do it one more time than they’d intended.
“It’s honestly hard to believe the way things are going,” Phillips said. “Randy slipped and I thought, at least we tied it up. Then I don’t know what happened.”
Phillips could have been expressing his disbelief in his rec room somewhere. He was in Kansas City until the Rays got him on Aug. 27. This is his fourth major league organization and he is a .202 hitter. Until now his star turn has been on the top step of the dugout, where he amused himself by making signs praising Arozarena and showing them to the cameras.
The Dodgers have lost gut-punch playoff games before, but the shock value of this loss will test every bit of the composure and experience that they prize.
And it also plants doubt, because they felt Jansen had finally worked out the mechanical kinks that supposedly had transported him back to his glory decade.
For a while it seemed that Corey Seager had set himself to sing “Strike Up The Band” at the very front of the Dodger parade.
He punched holes in four Tampa Bay pitchers Saturday night, conducting his own handicap match against anybody who ventured into the lefthand-batter’s box. He scalded an out to second base, then went homer-single-single-single until the Rays finally had no more fingertips on the ledge.
Seager’s most consequential hit was his softest. Taylor had just rocketed a double off Nick Anderson with no out in the eighth inning of a tied game. Seager came up with two outs and floated an RBI single behind shortstop to score him.
That was after he led off the seventh with a single off lefty specialist Aaron Loup, and he and Justin Turner wound up scoring on Joc Pederson’s two-out pinch-hit double off the glove of Brandon Lowe.
That put the Dodgers up 6-5, but then Kiermaier tied it with a majestic home run off Pedro Baez (don’t ask).
In the fifth, Seager took Peter Fairbanks’ 99 mph fastball and singled with one out, and then scored on Max Muncy’s base hit. In the third he stayed back on one of Ryan Yarbrough’s lefthand frisbees and launched it into the right-field seats.
For such drama to occur, you need ineffectual relief pitching and two managers with far too much faith in it.
Taylor’s double off Nick Anderson, whose stuff is as solid as anyone in Kevin Cash’s pen, was typical. Anderson threw five sizzling fastballs to Taylor and then tried to sneak in a curve. Taylor, who swings approximately as hard as Paul Bunyan, was all over it.
Diego Castillo, who often works the final innings for Tampa Bay, got pushed into the sixth and left his fastball command at his locker. Eventually, he gave up an RBI double to Enrique Hernandez.
The Dodgers went through the same drama after Julio Urias was the Young Master once again. He gave up a home run to the unconscious Randy Arozarena in the fourth and then another to Hunter Renfroe in the fifth inning.
Blake Treinen threw one pitch for the third out. But in the sixth, he was lifted in this yearly exercise of Matchup Fever, and Baez, the man who brings out the Twitter anger every fall, walked in.
Events begat events, and now the Dodgers and Rays have a best 2-of-3. When you haven’t won a World Series since 1988, you shouldn’t be surprised that you have to win it twice.