“That is into center field. Here comes Kiermaier. Phillips has tied the game. Arozarena comin' around. Throw home. Now he stumbles, but the ball gets away! Tampa Bay wins it! Brett Phillips, Game Four hero!”
In Los Angeles, that play to end Game Four of the 2020 World Series as described by Joe Buck, has been called a debacle, a meltdown, and more. With Phillips airplaning around second after the winning run had scored, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were one strike away from a 3-1 series lead, found it now tied 2-2.
If all other events that followed had remained the same, the Dodgers would be celebrating their first world championship in 32 years right now, but instead hope that a short-term starting pitcher and a shipload of relievers can nail it down Tuesday night. The Tampa Bay Rays won that fourth game 8-7 on Saturday night, but the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw rebounded on Sunday with a 4-2 victory, but not without more intense drama.
This time, instead of Chris Taylor making a fielding error in the bottom of the ninth, and Will Smith, not knowing that Arozarena had stumbled, swinging and missing trying to catch the throw and put down a swipe tag, the big play was in the fourth inning. With two outs, a runner at first, speedy Manuel Margot at third, and the very deliberate delivery of Kershaw on the mound, Margot timed his lead from the bag and broke for the plate. While Kershaw was in his windup, Dodger first baseman Max Muncy, yelled at him to step off. Kershaw fired to the plate, catcher Austin Barnes got the tag down an eyelash between Margot's hand and home plate, and replay confirmed it.
Those two plays, or perhaps one of them, depending on who wins, will define this crazy World Series. Kirk Gibson's memorable home run in 1988 was in game one, but 32 years later, it's thought of as “the play' of that series. If the Tampa Bay Rays win their first championship, the indelible moment would have to be Arozarena crawling home. If the Dodgers finally end 32 years of 'waiting 'til next year', the picture would be the one you see above.
That is, of course, unless something crazier happens, which, the way this series is going, could very well happen. Watching game four when Phillips came to the plate, something already told you that this was not going to be easy. Sure, he wasn't on the roster for the Rays' previous playoff rounds, and didn't have a good regular season, but baseball always seems to have one of those guys in every series (Giants fans will remember the name Marco Scutaro, and Mets (and Dodger) fans recall Daniel Murphy). No one could have imagined an error, stumble, swing and miss swipe tag, and a crawl to the plate, but if that was just a clean base hit to center, the game still would have been tied.
Also, if Margot would have been safe, the Dodgers and Kershaw still would have had the lead, but who knows what would have happened next? Maybe Kershaw gets pulled and more runs score. Maybe he stays in and more runs score. Maybe everything else would have stayed the same. It's part of the beauty of baseball, that we'll never know.
Speaking of craziness, with Kershaw needing only two pitches to get the first two outs in the sixth inning, Dodger manager Dave Roberts went to the mound and took the ball from Kershaw. Dustin May finished the inning, pitched a scoreless seventh, and lefty Victor Gonzalez followed. When asked about it immediately after the game, Roberts said it was agreed that Kershaw would only face two hitters in the sixth. About May and Gonzalez, Roberts said, “I believe in these guys.” Roberts was not asked about closer Kenley Jansen, who gave up the hit to Phillips the night before and didn't work the ninth. Blake Treinen finished up for the save.
So now, using an old NBA term, it's two-to-make-one for the Dodgers. Two chances to get one win. The pitching matchups favor the Rays in game six and the Dodgers in a possible seventh, but if we didn't know it already, we know it for sure now. Anything can happen. Try to come up with the most outlandish, inconceivable play you can think of. It's probably nothing near what we've seen the past two nights.
Faster than you can say Jack(ie) Robinson: When it took replay to confirm that Manuel Margot was out at the plate trying to steal home Sunday night, I immediately thought of the most famous steal of home in World Series history. I was expecting Fox to show the black-and-white footage from 1955 where Jackie Robinson was called safe just as Yogi Berra applied the tag. No replay in those days, of course, and Berra went to his grave thinking he tagged Robinson in time for the out. Neither Fox, nor the Dodger broadcasters made mention of it. ESPN's Tony Kornheiser did during Pardon the Interruption today, but no video was shown.
Tell the whole story: It's bad enough that fans, teammates, executives, and others don't care about players who were past drug cheats (Minnesota's Nelson Cruz, A-Rod on TV, etc), but if announcers are going to tell stories about a player's career, a past drug suspension should be mentioned. Tampa Bay first baseman Ji Man Choi has become a bit of a cult hero after bouncing around several different organizations. His story is a compelling one, but no one from Fox or ESPN mentioned his 50-game drug suspension while in the minors with Seattle. He took an anabolic steroid he knew was banned. You can say he paid the price and moved on, but it's still a part of his story worth acknowledging. There was a feature on him on mlb.com today, and at least the writer put in one sentence about it three-quarters of the way in, but at least it wasn't ignored like announcers tend to do.
Post-game nonsense: It's drivel, but it can be fun. I'm not one for the extended post-game shows, but if you are in the right mood, they can be fun. You get more yucks than information from Kevin Burkhart, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, and David Ortiz on the Fox and FS1 postgame, but it can be entertaining. Ortiz' English may not be that great, but he is funny. In Los Angeles, Fox affiliate KTTV has their local postgame show after the network is done. It's a trainwreck with hosts Liz Habib, Steve Garvey, and Jose Mota, but it keeps the vibe going. They had reporters in Texas and at Dodger Stadium (where people are paying 75 dollars a carload to watch the game in the parking lot) interviewing fans, and live (but usually joined late after the important stuff was said) interviews from the press room. If you are still so jacked up after a Dodger win that you don't want coverage to end, it's worth a look. It's not raising the bar for any broadcasting excellence, though.