Despite frustrating politics, questionable leadership, claims that the game is dying, and all those internet trolls claiming that it’s “not a sport,” baseball yet again reminded us that it can still grip a country of short attention spans and thankless spectators.
The Rays pulled off one of the whackiest wins in MLB postseason history — and one of the most memorable — in the wee hours of Sunday morning when Brett Phillips’ two-RBI single in the bottom of the ninth gave Tampa Bay an 8-7 win and knotted the 2020 World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers at two games apiece.
If only it were that simple of a summary, though.
The teams combined to score 10 runs in the final four innings with Tampa overturning a 4-2 deficit to put in motion what must have been the most nauseating see-saw of lead changes for Rays and Dodgers fans — but was baseball heaven for all neutrals watching.
With the Dodgers holding a 7-6 lead in the ninth and with runners on first and second, Tampa’s seldom-used Brett Phillips lined a single to right-center field, easily scoring Kevin Kiermaier from second.
But the ball bounced off center fielder Chris Taylor’s glove and pittered away from him, opening an opportunity for Randy Arozarena — who earlier set an MLB postseason record with his ninth home run of the playoffs — to score from first.
He would have made it easy, but he fell in between third and home, which had him dead to rights in a run down after the relay throw from Max Muncy seamlessly made its way to home plate. Catcher Will Smith, however, dropped the ball as he swiped a tag across home plate expecting Arozarena to be there — allowing the Rays’ sprinter to get up and slide across for the winning run.
It was just the third time in World Series history that there was a walk-off win with two outs in the ninth inning as Phillips’ single joined the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson’s infamous walk-off home run on two bad legs in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland Athletics and Cookie Lavagetto’s game-winning double for the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 4 of the 1947 Fall Classic against the New York Yankees.
We’re still trying to catch our breath despite the quick turnaround that comes with Game 5 later on Sunday night, but it was only fitting that the hysteria and calamity waited until Oct. 25, which tends to be a day of drama in the baseball world.
It must be something with the ghosts of the game rearing their heads in just before Halloween, just take a look at the other ridiculousness that has gone down on this date:
1911- Fred Merkle — whose infamous “boner” play cost the New York Giants the 1908 NL pennant — hits a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th inning off Philadelphia Athletics Hall-of-Fame pitcher Eddie Plank to score Larry Doyle to win Game 5 of the 1911 World Series at the Polo Grounds.
According to home-plate umpire Bill Klem after the game, Doyle did not touch home plate in his excitement. The Athletics, however, did not notice and never appealed the play. Had they did, Doyle would have been called out and the game would have continued into extra innings. Instead, it kept the Giants alive, cutting the Athletics’ series lead to 3-2.
The Athletics would close out the series in dominant style the very next day with a 13-2 victory in Philadelphia.
1981- With the ’81 Fall Classic tied at two games apiece, the Yankees held a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning of Game 5 behind the pitching of Ron Guidry — who had a 2.76 ERA that year while allowing just 12 home runs in 127 innings of work.
In six pitches during the bottom-of-the-seventh, he yielded two, as Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager went back-to-back to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead that was enough to take the Series lead.
Yeager’s blast was one of the more unlikely blasts considering he hit just three home runs in 1981.
The Dodgers clinched the World Series in Game 6 three nights later.
1986- One of the greatest games in World Series history, the Boston Red Sox were one out from their first championship since 1918 in Game 6 against the New York Mets — who put together a furious two-out rally in the bottom-of-the-tenth to make it 5-4 following a Ray Knight RBI single, putting runners at first and third.
With Mookie Wilson at the plate, Boston reliever Calvin Schiraldi was replaced by Bob Stanley, who subsequently threw a wild pitch on a 2-2 count that came within millimeters of hitting the Mets’ batter, allowing Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run from third base and moving Knight to second.
Three pitches later, on the final hurl of the 10-pitch at-bat, Wilson hit that iconic “little roller along first” that bounced through the legs of Bill Bucker, scoring Knight and forcing a Game 7, which the Mets won two nights later at Shea Stadium.
2003- Josh Beckett twirls a five-hit shutout in the Bronx against the Yankees to win the Florida Marlins their second World Series title in six years. It was the first time an opposing team celebrated a championship on the field at Yankee Stadium since those 1981 Dodgers.
2005- Geoff Blum smacks a 14th-inning go-ahead solo home run to spark a Chicago White Sox 7-5 victory in Game 3 of the ’05 Fall Classic over the Houston Astros in the first-ever World Series game played in the state of Texas.
Blum became the 30th player in MLB history to hit a home run his first World Series at-bat, capping off the longest game in the championship round (5 hours, 41 minutes).
In the bottom half of the inning, White Sox ace Mark Buehrle becomes the first pitcher to start and save consecutive World Series contests after posting a no-decision in Game 2. Chicago completed the sweep to win its first World Series title since 1917.