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Brett Phillips' nearest and dearest sweat through his historic at-bat

His wife almost missed his big swing. Ex-Ray Dan Johnson was watching. Phillips' best man had the moment Face-Timed.
Brett Phillips was still smiling a day after helping the Rays to a Game 4 win in the World Series.
Brett Phillips was still smiling a day after helping the Rays to a Game 4 win in the World Series. [ TONY GUTIERREZ | AP ]
Published Oct. 26, 2020
Updated Oct. 26, 2020

ARLINGTON, Texas — When Brett Phillips delivered arguably the biggest hit in Rays history to win Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night, his wife, Bri, was cheering him on — from a hotel room near the stadium.

Bri arranged the days off from her job at a Clearwater jewelry store, flew Saturday morning to Texas, met up with her Texas-based family and settled in to her Globe Life Field seat to watch the game — for about seven innings.

It was really cold and getting late, she didn’t think Brett was likely to get in the game, and the hotel was just a short walk away. Bri and her mom, Marie, headed out, got to their room, plopped down on the bed and flipped on the TV. There was Brett, pinch-running for Ji-Man Choi.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s on the TV, he’s in,'" Bri said at the stadium on Sunday. “We were freaking out. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, and we left.’ I was beating myself up over it because it’s the World Series, and my husband’s playing.”

Brett Phillips' wife, Bri, is seen in the stands just prior to Game 5 of the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday.
Brett Phillips' wife, Bri, is seen in the stands just prior to Game 5 of the World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

When the Rays started batting in the ninth down one run, Bri watched intensely as Kevin Kiermaier singled with one out and Randy Arozarena walked with two, bringing Brett, the Seminole High product, to the plate with a chance to win it.

“My heart was beating like a million miles a minute,” she said. “I felt sick. I really thought I was going to throw up.”

When Phillips singled to center, the Dodgers booted the play, and both Kiermaier and Arozarena, who fell rounding third, scored, she felt a little better.

“We were screaming at the top of our lungs,” she said. “The people in the rooms around us were probably like, ‘Who is next door? They’re going to keep us up all night.'”

Related: Rays’ Brett Phillips joins short list of unlikely World Series walkoff heroes

Bri had all the feels you would expect, proud of what Brett did and even more so how he handled the moment. She was at peace with missing it live, deciding she had left for the right reason. The moment was just as meaningful, and there were even some benefits.

“I got a better view (of the play) and I got all the angles on TV,” she said. “And I got a nice shot of his butt. It was good.”

The only problem was now she had to tell him she’d missed it in person. When Brett called an hour or so after the game, she fessed up.

Brett: “So did you see it?”

Bri: “I saw it, but I wasn’t in the stadium. We left; we were freezing.”

Brett: “Oh my gosh, that’s so funny.”

Bri: “That’s funny?”

Brett: “Yeah, because who knows what would have happened if you were in the stadium. It could have been a totally different turn of events. You know what, it worked out the way it was supposed to.”

A special connection

Dan Johnson was counting on the Rays doing something special Saturday. They had asked him a few days earlier to tape a video throwing a ceremonial first pitch that would be shown before Game 4. Given the way he had, somewhat surprisingly, come up big for them during his career — the big homer in Boston in 2008 and the bigger one in the ninth inning of 2011′s Game 162 — he was banking on some karma to carry over.

Watching the game first with his four kids, then just with his wife at their home in Ham Lake, Minn., he started thinking during the ninth inning how fitting it would be that Phillips would have a chance to deliver. “This guy comes up and I’m like this is perfect, right? He fits the bill,” Johnson said. “He has two home runs, less a than .200 batting average. Everyone else counts him out. I know exactly what that guy feels like in that situation. It’s not an indication of who you actually are. Numbers are numbers.”

Related: Rays’ Brett Phillips enjoys his moment in World Series spotlight

When Phillips delivered the hit, some people said he had his “Dan Johnson moment.”

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So did Dan Johnson. “Instantly,” he said. “It was exactly that. I even said it out loud. I was so pumped for him when he was able to get it done. And the way he handled himself afterward was great.”

Best man didn’t have the best view

Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy Mike Mann, left, was Brett Phillips' best man at his wedding. Mann watched Phillips' Game 4 heroics on FaceTime while a friend held the phone up to the TV.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy Mike Mann, left, was Brett Phillips' best man at his wedding. Mann watched Phillips' Game 4 heroics on FaceTime while a friend held the phone up to the TV. [ Courtesy Mike Mann ]

Working the night shift for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office, deputy Mike Mann had come to grips with the idea that he would miss most of the World Series. A childhood friend of Phillips from Seminole and the best man at his wedding, Mann had already finagled the previous Saturday night off to watch Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

Mann had just gotten off a call and had parked his cruiser at the West Dog Park not too far from Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for a dinner break with some canine handlers around midnight. He was eating a salad on the hood of the car when a friend from the district office called.

“She said, ‘Hey, hey, you need to turn on the game, Brett is coming up to bat.’ I said. ‘What!’ I didn’t have time to get anywhere and I didn’t have a TV in my car,” Mann said. "So she FaceTimed me, and that’s how I saw the at-bat was off her phone.

“I was so excited, I was pacing back and forth. I knew if I tried calling him he wouldn’t be able to answer so I FaceTimed his wife and we were screaming back and forth. It was like a party. It was insane.”

Calling all angels

Brett Phillips' sister, Brittany, left, his mother, Jody, center, and his stepfather, David Foushee are seen just prior to Game 5.
Brett Phillips' sister, Brittany, left, his mother, Jody, center, and his stepfather, David Foushee are seen just prior to Game 5. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

They were surrounded mostly by Dodgers fans, but the family in Section 101 paid little attention to the crowd.

By the time it got to the ninth inning, Jody Phillips-Foushee and David Foushee had already figured out the boy they call Maverick — Brett’s middle name — was going to be in the middle of whatever happened.

His mother and stepfather didn’t talk, and barely looked at each other. Instead, they would reach across the arm rest to make sure the other was still sitting there.

“You worry about your child,” his mother said. “You don’t want them to be up in the ninth with two outs and two strikes. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is happening.’ I had a lot of prayers. There are angels in the outfield, and I was calling them all.”

Phillips took Ball 1, then Strike 1. When the third pitch appeared low and outside, he turned and looked at the umpire.

“His entire baseball career, I never saw that look from Maverick,” Foushee said. “I saw that look and I thought, ‘Oh no, what’s coming next?’ He’s so good at letting the past go, but I didn’t know what was going to happen there. And then the very next pitch …”

Brett’s sister, Brittany, didn’t wait to see if Randy Arozarena had scored.

“I jumped out of my seat,” she said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever jumped so high in my life.”

Father-in-law knows best

Trey Hillman, Phillips' father-in-law, also left Saturday’s game early. He wanted to get his soon-to-be 86-year-old father out of the cold and, like his daughter, wasn’t sure if Phillips would get in. Once he got his dad situated and turned the game on, he saw the opportunity coming for a pinch-run appearance as soon as Ji-Man Choi walked in the eighth. Spending 35 years in pro baseball, playing, coaching and managing, including two-plus years running the Royals, gives you that knowledge.

As the Rays started the ninth down one, he also knew Phillips, hitting fifth that inning, had a chance to bat in a pretty key situation. And having spent 2011-13 as the Dodgers bench coach, he knew how closer Kenley Jansen would try to attack. The only problem was that his Phillips couldn’t hear him.

"I’m sitting there talking to the TV like he’s got an earpiece in,'' Hillman said. “I said, ‘Pull your hands in on this nasty cutter and barrel something up.' I said, ‘Go ahead and hit a double and get it over with.' But then I thought I was asking for too much, so I said, ‘At least hit a single and tie it up.’”

The post-game celebration

Between the excitement of the moment, his “airplane run” through the outfield and the pileup with his teammates, Phillips started feeling faint and nearly passed out on the field. When he came off the field, he ended up on a table in the trainers room with a resting heart rate was 140 and severe dehydration. His postgame liquid refreshment was an IV. Then he started feeling the effects of a migraine and had a towel placed over his eyes. “They’re like, ‘Man, we’ve got to chill you out,” Phillips said. “But it was all worth it, just a little hyperventilation.”

Once he felt better, Phillips made to the Zoom room for a media session. Once he got back to the Rays bubble hotel (he couldn’t see Bri or his parents or any other family because of the quarantine), he started going through his phone, which had more than 500 text messages, including a bunch from former big-league teammates as well as other relatives and friends from home. He stayed up until 4 a.m. replying. “That’s something I take a lot of passion in, thanking everyone that supported me,” he said.

Take it from the top

Brett Phillips (14) celebrates the game-winning hit against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 on Saturday.
Brett Phillips (14) celebrates the game-winning hit against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 on Saturday. [ TONY GUTIERREZ | Associated Press (2020) ]

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg already had collected a few good-luck charms on Saturday. He got a box of his favorite cookies, Mallomars, which can be hard to find, from Tim Mullen, one of their limited partners, who came in for the Series. Sternberg’s four kids and their significant others with them had gone over to Fort Worth for the day and brought back a large cowbell as an anniversary present for Stuart and Lisa, who on Friday marked their 32nd year.

So when Phillips was walking to the plate to face erratic Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, and Lisa asked if they had a chance, Sternberg said they did. “I said, ‘Look, he’s the weakest hitter on the team, but it’s a lefty against a righty, and what he needs to do is just have the barrel of his bat hit the ball, and have something good happen. Or just hit it the other way. He’s got to get the square of his bat on the ball.' And I said it could happen,” Sternberg said.

When it did, Stuart and Lisa, and the kids and their friends, shared their immense joy. “We were all wearing masks, and we’ve tried to be careful with the kids, but we were all hugging,” he said.

There was another thing. The clanger on the cowbell broke around the sixth inning, so they made do by hitting it with salad tongs that were in the suite. When Arozarena scored, Sternberg’s son, Jake, overzealously tossed the tongs, and they landed in the next suite. “And we were going to memorialize the salad tongs and the cowbell,” Sternberg said.

You’ve got to join the party

Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow were in unfamiliar territory Saturday night. With the Rays burning through so many relievers early in the game, Tampa Bay’s scheduled starters for Games 5 and 6 were sent to the bullpen to get ready in case the game went into extra innings. When Phillips' line drive reached the outfield, Snell said he knew Kiermaier would score and assumed the score would be tied and he would be called on for the 10th inning. That’s when he realized Arozarena might score too. “As he’s passing third, I’m thinking he’s going to be safe-safe. And then he trips on this helmet. Weird,” Snell said. "When he scored, everyone went nuts. We’re all in the bullpen celebrating, going crazy, can’t believe it. “Then I look and I see Phillips coming to leftfield and I’m like, ‘Yo, what are we doing?’ We all looked at him and then we just ran to the pile.”

Can you hear me now?

Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Brett Phillips, wife Bri and agent Tom O'Connell during spring training 2019.
Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Brett Phillips, wife Bri and agent Tom O'Connell during spring training 2019. [ Special to the Times ]

At his home in new Tampa, agent Tom O’Connell knew Phillips would make the most of the opportunity. Then just to be sure, he got up from sitting with his wife, Amanda, to stand right next to the TV that is mounted on the wall and pleaded with Phillips. When the ball dropped in, O’Connell let loose. “I jumped out of my skin,” he said. “I woke up the kids, the dogs were barking, the whole house was up. Just elated. What a moment.”

He sees things

Phillips entered the game in the bottom of the eighth as a pinch-runner for Choi, then played rightfield in the top of the ninth. When he came back to the dugout, he wasn’t sure if he’d even get the chance to bat, asking where he was in the order. Paul Hoover, the Rays field coordinator who functions like an assistant bench coach, told him he would be up fifth that inning. Oh, and that Phillips, who hadn’t had an at-bat since Oct. 7 or a hit since Sept. 25, would knock in the game-winning run.

“He said, ‘You already know it,' and he gave me a fist bump,” Hoover said. When Phillips went to the plate? “I was thinking, C’mon Philly, get it done here,” Hoover said. “Nothing more than any other guy who would have come up in the ninth with two outs and down a run.” And went his hit sent the runners home? “How special that was for him, and more importantly the team," Hoover said. ”Pretty impressive for anyone to come up in that situation and come through for the team. But for Philly and his lack of at-bats makes it that much more impressive."