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The dream of a lifetime, and a World Series game to remember

John Romano | Seminole High’s Brett Phillips lives his childhood dream with the winning hit for Rays in a thrilling 8-7 win in Game 4.
The Rays clear the benches as they celebrate an 8-7 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Saturday.
The Rays clear the benches as they celebrate an 8-7 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Saturday. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 25, 2020
Updated Oct. 25, 2020

ARLINGTON, Texas — Soon the season will be over, and yet Game 4 of the World Series will live on and on.

It will be talked about in books and on barstools. During spring training games and in documentaries. Strategies will be debated, heroics will be recalled and Randy Arozarena’s frantic, stumbling trip around the bases will be shown on highlights for as long as the sport exists.

But for all the drama, intrigue and heartbreak, there is one takeaway that matters most:

Never, ever, ever count out the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays.

(Says the guy who has written them off too many times to count.)

The Rays scored two runs with two out in the ninth to beat the Dodgers 8-7 in Game 4 Saturday night to even the World Series and send the star-crossed Dodgers to bed with a new set of nightmares to ponder.

But those are the barest of facts. They do nothing to encapsulate the twists, turns, mistakes, near-misses, wrong choices and utter craziness of four hours of baseball on a cool, October night.

For starters, try this:

The winning hit was delivered by a guy who hit .196 this season, who was playing for the Royals two months ago, who had two plate appearances in October, who had not gotten a base hit since Sept. 25, and who had a total of three hits in his tenure with the Rays.

And, oh yeah, Brett Phillips graduated from Seminole High, about 14 miles up the road from Tropicana Field, and watched the Rays play in the 2008 World Series as an eighth grader, dreaming of the day when he might get his own chance.

“It’s definitely crossed my mind just like every other kid out there,” Phillips said. "Definitely want to extend some advice to all the kids out there. Keep dreaming big. These opportunities are closer than you think, and they can come about. So just keep dreaming big, kids. An opportunity like this: have an unrelenting belief that it will happen, because it does.

“Things like this do happen. And it’s awesome.”

To be fair, things like this rarely happen. And they almost certainly never have such a remarkable opening act.

Before the ninth inning — before Phillips lined his two-out, two-strike single to center, before Dodgers centerfielder Chris Taylor bobbled the ball while Kevin Kiermaier was scoring, before Arozarena barreled around third base and fell halfway to home, before Dodgers catcher Will Smith misplayed the relay throw, before Arozarena half-crawled, half-ran home — this game was already a classic.

For eight consecutive turns at bat, the Rays and Dodgers traded runs. Never before, in more than a century of World Series games, had there been so many half-innings in succession with at least one run crossing the plate.

The Rays trailed for five innings before taking the lead in the bottom of the sixth. The Dodgers went back ahead in the seventh. The Rays tied it in the bottom of the seventh. The Dodgers went back ahead in the eighth.

“The baseball gods were on our side,” Kiermaier said. “I was the happiest man on the planet to see Randy score just so the game could be over with. I couldn’t have taken any more.”

Pick any half-inning and you could write a treatise on baseball strategy and drama.

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Rays manager Kevin Cash was summoning his best relievers by the fifth inning, knowing his club could not afford to fall behind three games to one. He used five pinch-hitters or pinch-runners and six relievers. Had the game gone to extra innings, he had Game 5 starter Tyler Glasnow and Game 6 starter Blake Snell getting ready in the bullpen.

The Rays had been 34-0 when leading after the seventh inning, yet they surrendered the lead in the eighth on a two-out, bloop single by Corey Seager. Remarkably, all seven of the Dodgers' runs on Saturday night were scored with two outs.

The Rays looked like they were dead and on their way to 2021 when Kiermaier hit a broken-bat single to match Seager’s fortunate hit, Arozarena drew a tense walk off closer Kenley Jansen and Phillips came to the plate to do his magic.

“I wish I had better words to describe what the club is feeling like right now,” Cash said. "The moment the ball left Phillips' bat, we knew we had a tie ballgame and then everything that happened afterwards.

“There are about 40 people beside themselves with excitement (in the clubhouse) and wondering what the heck just happened.”

There will be time to dissect that later. Time to recall and time to revisit. Because this game is going to be talked about for ages.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Kiermaier said. “I don’t know if anything like that has ever happened, especially in the World Series, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see it again.”