Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel once stated, “Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose ’em I never knew existed before.”
For those watching Game 4 of the 2020 World Series, you know exactly how true this can be even with a slightly less experience as The Old Perfessor.
Trailing 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth with two runners aboard and down to their final out, the Tampa Bay Rays were one strike away from dropping to a 3-1 deficit against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Insert Brett Phillips, the final man on the roster who hadn’t made an appearance at the plate since three weeks prior on October 7 during the American League Division Series. He was left off the AL Championship Series roster altogether.
Facing a closer with over 300 career saves and a postseason earned run average of 2.24, Phillips lashed the 1-2 offering from Kenley Jansen into center field to tie the score and prolong the game.
However, this extension would not require extra innings or even an additional at-bat.
As the ball bounced towards Dodgers’ center fielder Chris Taylor, the part-time infielder misplayed the single for the first error, leading to an overly aggressive base running miscalculation by Rays’ outstanding rookie Randy Arozarena.
Compounding his miscue of getting caught between third base and home plate was the fact that Arozarena also fell down on the play.
Not to be outdone, the relay throw from Taylor was cutoff by Max Muncy and the throw – while off-center – was mishandled by another rookie, catcher Will Smith, for the second error of the play.
The ball rolled away from Smith with Jansen out of position in front of home plate rather than behind it.
Arozarena scored, the Dodgers were stunned and Phillips ran around the outfield, evading teammates with arms outstretched in celebration.
Much like many professional baseball players, the 26-year-old has traveled by the country by bus to hone his craft in the minors in hopes of making a lasting impression on the major league level.
After Phillips’ walk-off winner Saturday night, he’s done exactly that.
Born and raised in Seminole, FL in the most densely populated county in the state – more people live in Pinellas County than all of Wyoming – the former Colorado Springs Sky Sox prospect lived next door to a former minor league ballplayer when growing up just 23 minutes from Tropicana Field.
Unfortunately, he was unaware of this well-known neighbor’s biography.
“I honestly didn’t know,” Phillips confessed about the identity of former St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds minor leaguer Randy Poffo. “He was just an old dude living next to me that wanted to play basketball every day.”
While Poffo never made it big in the sport of baseball, he would reinvent himself to become a larger-than-life professional wrestler under the moniker Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
“I didn’t watch wrestling growing up. I had no clue who he was. I didn’t realize how famous he was until I got into pro ball and people picked up on this story and made me realize how famous he actually was,” Phillips shared. “It was cool. He was a great guy.”
Drafted at 18-years-old as sixth round draft pick in 2012, he’d be flipped to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015 once the Houston Astros decided to crawl out of the AL West cellar after compiling massive amounts of high-end prospects.
In 2017-18, Phillips played on the final Sky Sox clubs before the franchise moved to San Antonio and the city of Colorado Springs was relegated to a short-season rookie league, going from the highest rung on MiLB’s ladder to it’s lowest.
“Whether the wind is blowing in or out, its gonna play hard,” Phillips said of whirling winds at UCHealth Park on Mother’s Day back in 2018. “It’s going to swirl the ball. The ball’s not going to do normal things that it would do at a normal stadium. It’s tough.”
Even after his stint tracking down fly balls in the Centennial State, it would be covering ground in the large expanse of Kauffman Stadium following a deal to the Kansas City Royals in July of 2018. Then another at this year’s trade deadline to Tampa Bay saw him battling the domed dynamism of the Trop.
All in all, its a unique path for the outfielder to snap into history.
As for the final play of Game 4, Phillips is on a short list of players to hit a flying elbow from the top rope in such a fashion: flip the lead with two out in the ninth for a walk-off World Series winner.
Cookie Lavagetto in 1947. Kirk Gibson in 1988.
And now Phillips.
Can you dig it?
(Photo: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)