Baseball is a crazy game and heroes are made in the biggest moments: Brett Phillips! Who?

MLB has been building up Mookie Betts as the hero, but he went 0-5; Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

The stage was set for Randy Arozarena to walk-off on Goliath, but they walked him to pitch to Brett Phillips who had not notched a hit in a month. Who? Brett Phillips. Best known for his Arnold Horshack laugh than his plays on the field. Known for being the other player in the Josh Hader trade. Known for his whiteboard signs in the ALCS when he was not on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Known for a dance-off on a day-off  with his teammates after the Rays beat the Yankees to advance to the World Series. Now known as the only non-Dodgers player to ever hit a walk-off winner with 2 outs in the 9th inning while trailing in a World Series game. Phillips now joins Kirk Gibson and Cookie Lavagetto as the only players to ever accomplish that feat. 

Gibby did it in 1988 with the improbable walk-off home run as he was hobbled while trotting around the bases. Lavagetto slayed the Yankees in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series. They say baseball heroes are made in October.

Enter Arozarena who has the most rookie hits in a postseason, and now he has more home runs in a postseason than any other player, ever, with nine dingers. Enter Brandon Lowe who hit the 3-run home run in this game to put the Rays in front of the Dodgers. Enter Joc Pederson who hit the two-run single to put the Dodgers up on the Rays and collar Nick Anderson with a blown-save. Kevin Kiermaier then hits a game tying home run, but Corey Seager hits a go-ahead single in the 8th inning to set the stage for the 9th inning walk-off.

If you missed the parallels to the 2019 Washington Nationals’ Wild Card win, it was there. Kiermaier had the broken bat single like Ryan Zimmerman. Arozarena had the bases loaded two-out walk like Anthony Rendon. Phillips had the game-winning single like Juan Soto. Chris Taylor had the outfield error like Trent Grisham. Kenley Jansen took the blown-save loss like Josh Hader who happened to have been traded to those Brewers with Brett Phillips from the Astros. So the question is, does this win propel the Rays to a World Series win? We do not know that yet.

The Brett Phillips story is a Disney story. So unbelievable. Phillips took a page out of Joe Maddon‘s book about if you’re not hitting, what are you doing to help your team win. Heck, Phillips wasn’t hitting because he wasn’t on the ALCS roster so he made himself useful as a cheerleader and great teammate. Then he got a whiteboard clipboard and wrote his name on it to make signs during the game. He called himself the “Keep-it-simple coach” which was really taking a page out of the book of Gerardo Parra to keep everyone loose.

“I’m looking around and I’m like, We got the manager and the bench coach, and the analytical guy, but we don’t have the keep-it-simple guy,” Phillips says. “So I call myself the keep-it-simple guy. I consider myself a player-coach for the ALCS.”

“… just so the other coaches wouldn’t get mixed up with what’s on their clipboards, because it’s very similar information,” Phillips said he wrote his name on the clipboard.

Phillips would write RANDY on his board as an acronym. He would write RANDY > YOUR FAVORITE PLAYER and HIT BALL HARD and other Arozarena thoughts. But he also had motivational words for Willy Adames and other teammates plus words of encouragement.

Tampa Bay traded for Phillips at the trade deadline, and his contributions certainly were not with the bat. He was 3-20 (.150) to finish his Rays season. It was a dream come true for him since he grew up near Tampa and was a die-hard Rays fan as a kid. But he really became a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. He was 0-2 in the ALDS. He was left off of the ALCS roster so they could add more pitching with no days off.

“When he pulled that out the other day, I thought it was awesome,” said teammate Ryan Yarbrough of the infamous clipboard. “Great teammate, great player. Just a guy who keeps it light in the dugout all the time. Always gonna have your back and always there to cheer you on.”

First baseman Ji-Man Choi used the clipboard to remind each hitter of the messages that Phillips had attached. So what would Phillips write on the clipboard about himself? Nothing. That’s not his style.

The humble Phillips called the walk-off the greatest moment along with his own wedding. Again, he grew up a Tampa Bay Devil Rays fan. When he was in the 8th grade, the Devil Rays made the World Series. He dreamed about moments like this.

“To know the backstory, is to know the story,” Phillips said. “When these guys were in the World Series, I was in eighth grade watching them. And now to be a part of it, helping these guys win a World Series game, it’s special.”

Phillips entered the game as a pinch-runner and stayed in for defense. When it looked like he could enter the game in the ninth inning to bat, he went to the indoor batting cage and emerged to hope he could help his team win. When he was stepping out of the dugout to get to the on-deck circle, Rays’ field coordinator Paul Hoover told him that he was going to win the game for Tampa Bay.

Shockingly, Jansen was not pitching-around Arozarena but credit to the rookie for not forcing it and he worked a walk to move the line to Phillips who had not faced an opposing pitcher since the ALDS. As Jerry Seinfeld would debate, was Phillips really down to his last strike?

“It didn’t matter that I didn’t have an at-bat in the last two weeks, because I wouldn’t be on the roster for the World Series if they didn’t believe I could help them win in any way,” Phillips said. “I know there are some guys out there with really slow heart rates that have been in this situation many times before and it’s just like another day for them. But for myself, it’s not, and I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it.”

Jansen went after Phillips and got two straight strikes called that maybe nicked the edge. Maybe. In a 1-2 count. Phillips was forced to swing the bat and instincts took over.

What a game! This was dubbed as a series of David versus Goliath. The Rays have the third lowest payroll in the Majors and the Dodgers spent the second most. The Dodgers spent more money on Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, and Justin Turner than the entire Rays’ payroll.

On a personal note, I worked with O’Connell Sports Management in Tampa, and Brett Phillips is one of their many players in the Major Leagues. I can tell you that Phillips is a really good kid who deserved this. He has always been the guy who worked hard, and he persevered to get to this moment. Now his name is etched in World Series history.
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