Willy Aybar in the 2008 American League Championship Series against Jon Lester. Dan Johnson in Game 162 of the 2011 season. Earlier this month, Michael Brosseau in the ALDS against the Bronx Savages. The Rays are known for their heroics to come from the unsung, yet it’s perhaps never been more startling than the Game Four hero in the franchises biggest game yet: Brett Phillips.
For the Rays, this is the most wins they’ve ever had at one time in the Fall Classic, with their only other appearance in 2008 seeing only one victory in the start from James Shields, where he defeated Brett Myers. The team doesn’t have much history, as there wasn’t a franchise to play baseball at Tropicana Field until just over two decades ago. In 1995, the St. Pete area was gifted an expansion team alongside Phoenix, Arizona. The Thunderdome was to host the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In 1996 when the Lightning left the Thunderdome, the naming rights were sold to Tropicana who renamed the stadium and the Rays began play in 1998.
The Rays roster? Outside of Fred McGriff andWade Boggs, there wasn’t much to love. The lineup saw over 100 games from shortstop Kevin Stocker, catcher John Flahert and third baseman Bob Smith. Julio Santana and Dennis Spinger rounded out one of the most abysmal rotations ever assembled. The team lost 99 games. Yet, the city didn’t care. They finally had baseball. One person who was just content with having a Major League Baseball club? Four year old Brett Phillips from Seminole, Florida. He lived 20 minutes away from the stadium and attended the first ever Rays Fanfest with his grandmother in 1998.
He’s so Floridian that as a kid, his neighbor was Randy Savage. Yes, that Randy Savage, freak out freak out because in Game Four the madness was all Brett Phillips. From the time Phillips was 11 to Randy’s passing when he was in high school, Randy Savage would invite him over to play HORSE every day and every day he creamed Phillips in basketball.
He had a dream to one day play in the Major League’s as a kid. He made it with the Milwaukee Brewers before going to the Kansas City Royals. He’s the 28th man on a 28 man roster. He was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays this past summer to be a defensive replacement and base stealer. He hadn’t had an RBI in months, an at bat since October 7th and was left off of the ALCS roster entirely. Due to being left off the roster, he decided to coach in the ALCS, always being the biggest fan in the venue. For every victory, he was in the middle of the celebration with his dance-offs. He kept the clubhouse loose all October despite not playing. His “Randy: Rakes All Night Day Year” went viral.
The ALCS almost went historically south for the Rays, yet it was Phillips being left on the roster who still gave the other players a breathe of fresh air in the dugout.
His name was called upon unexpectedly, however, with two on and two out in the ninth inning and the Rays down a run in Game Four of the World Series. He had come in earlier in the game to pinch-run for Ji-Man Choi. The Dodgers had gotten the first out in the ninth inning on a K to Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. Kevin Kiermaier then blooped a single on a shattered bat. Joey Wendle lined out to Joc Pederson in left. Randy Arozarena worked a full count walk. The final hitter? Brett Phillips, the same Brett Phillips that was a Rays fan since day one, the same Brett Phillips that was left off of the roster in the previous round and the same Brett Phillips that’s a career .202 hitter. Yet, for this one at bat, he had the opportunity to take his previous neighbor’s “Cream of the Crop” and make it his own. He was facing the best closer of the last half decade, the all-time Dodger save leader Kenley Jansen. On a 1-2 count, he ripped one against the shift into left center. The speedy Kevin Kiermaier left zero doubt he would score, but speedy Randy Arozarena was still 270 ft away from homeplate with the ball left the bat. It dropped rather shallow. Phillips did his job and at least guaranteed extra innings. Chris Taylor, the normally steady utility man, bobbled the ball, Randy Arozarena then challenges his arm. He hits the cutoff man. Max Muncy goes home and Arozarena is stopped dead in his tracks.
Max Muncy misses the catcher, the ball goes to the back stop. Randy Arozarena slides in. Randy lays at the plate all night, day, year as Will Smith is unable to recover and the Rays have an 8-7 victory to tie up the series. Everything is full circle for the kid from the Tampa Bay area who grew up a Rays fan, was given the smallest window of opportunity because they had nobody else to turn to and like a 12 year old kid who had just walked off the World Series, mimicking legendary Devil Ray Carl Crawford’s swing in his backyard, he found the grassiest area on the field and went full airplane mode in celebration. Only this time, it wasn’t a pipe dream but a reality and he was living the dream of every kid in America.
Brett Phillips, by all means, was the 28th piece of the puzzle. Yet, here he was, achieving his dream walking off a World Series game for his hometown team. For this moment, a 26-year-old made his inner preteen self the proudest person in the world. He did what everybody on the planet strives to do: live his dream. He was so overcome by emotion that all he could do was crouch and cry with teammate, All-Star right-fielder Austin Meadows.
That is raw, unbridled emotion. That is what makes baseball so pure.
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