Phillips singled home the tying run off Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen in Game 4 on Saturday night, starting a wild sequence that led to the winning run scoring after the Dodgers fumbled the relay throw home.
It was Phillips’ first at-bat in more than two weeks and his first hit since Sept. 25.
“That’s why baseball is so special,” Phillips said after the 8-7 victory. “Anyone can come up on any given night and help the team win. We’ve proven that since I’ve been here.”
Phillips was a midseason acquisition from Kansas City but was mostly used this month as a pinch runner and for defense. When he came to the plate, with two outs and two on in the ninth inning and his team down a run, he never let doubt enter his mind.
“For myself, it was having this unrelenting belief that I was going to come in and help the team or do a job like I’m asked,” Phillips said. “It’s why I’m here. We’re major league baseball players. We wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t do that.”
Phillips shrugged off a borderline strike two call and then singled to right field on a 92 mph cutter from Jansen. Kevin Kiermaier scored from second to tie the score, and soon after, Randy Arozarena crawled home after falling down as Dodgers catcher Will Smith fumbled the relay throw.
Then the celebration began.
“After we won, I took off like an airplane,” Phillips said. “Because I thought it was cool. Little did I know, I exhausted all my energy doing the airplane. Then all the guys caught up to me and were yelling. Next thing I knew I had no energy or breath to yell. I had to get out of the doggy pile because I was this close to passing out. It was out of pure excitement and pure joy.”
The joy of winning the game is heightened by the fact that Phillips grew up in the Tampa Bay area and followed the Rays as kid. He was asked if this was the sort of dream moment he imagined when he was young.
“Yeah, it’s definitely crossed my mind,” he said. “Just like every other kid out there. Definitely want to extend some advice to all the kids out there — keep dreaming big. These opportunities are closer than you think. Keep dreaming big, kids, and having that unrelenting belief. … Things like this happen. It’s awesome.”
Phillips’ wife missed most of the postseason due to work but had arrived in Texas just in time for Game 4. He said getting the big hit was akin to the excitement of getting married, ranking those two things as the best moments of his life. He was asked how he stayed so calm in the batter’s box after not seeing live pitching since earlier this month.
“I think it was thinking about all the texts I would have got if I didn’t come up clutch there,” he said with a laugh. “From all my best friends being like, ‘Yo, come on, what was that?’ I said it before, just having an unrelenting belief things were going to work out for the best. And it did.”
Phillips was 3-for-20 for the Rays in the regular season and wasn’t even on the ALCS roster, but his teammates were as confident as he was when he stepped to the plate.
“I knew that Phillie was going to get the job done,” Brandon Lowe said. “I don’t know why, I just really liked the matchup with him at the plate right there. I thought he was going to do something good.
“[As] soon as he hit the ball, my heart was going a million miles an hour. I saw Randy trip, my heart stopped. I saw the ball go by him, my heart started pounding again. … What a way to finish a ball game.”
Phillips said he was thankful for the opportunity, giving most of the credit to his manager, calling Kevin Cash one of the best in the game.
“Shows again why Cash is the man, letting me get an at-bat there because I’m sure he was probably like, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no. We gotta go to the last guy on the bench,'” Phillips said. “This is the best feeling in the world. Next to getting married to my wife last November.”
The Dodgers and Rays are tied 2-2 with Game 5 on Sunday night.
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