ARLINGTON, Texas — Like many of you, Tom O’Connell watched the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night from the comfort of his bed.
It was after midnight at his home in Florida when his client, Brett Phillips, came to the plate for the Tampa Bay Rays with the game in the balance.
O’Connell is an agent and a passionate advocate of the players he represents. But he never imagined this.
Nobody had. Phillips had only two at-bats in the first two rounds of the playoffs then was dropped off the roster for the American League Championship Series.
The Rays brought him back for the World Series to be a pinch runner or defensive replacement, not to come to the plate with two on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4, down a run.
But after Phillips pinch ran in the eighth inning, he stayed in the game to play right field. Then history put him at the plate against Kenley Jansen.
“Can you imagine if he gets a hit?” O’Connell said to his wife, Amanda. “I hope they throw him something he can handle.”
Jansen did. It was a two-strike cutter over the plate and Phillips lined it into center field to drive in the tying run.
Center fielder Chris Taylor booted the ball and catcher Will Smith whiffed on the relay throw to the plate. That allowed Randy Arozarena to score all the way from first despite falling down after he rounded third.
The Rays won the game, 8-7, with the last player on their bench getting a hit followed by two errors.
“I was shell-shocked,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Sunday before Game 5.
Phillips was so overwhelmed by what he did that he had trouble breathing after running into the outfield, his arms outstretched like airplane wings. The Tampa Bay athletic trainers sat him down then administered an IV in the clubhouse because he was dehydrated.
“I almost passed out,” Phillips said. “When I got in the training room my resting heart rate was over 140.”
Phillip also had a migraine headache. It took almost an hour before he was able to speak to reporters as text messages and calls flooded his phone, one of them from O’Connell. There were more than 500 and he stayed up to 4 a.m. answering them.
“I wanted to thank everyone who supported me,” Phillips said. “It was really cool.”
Phillips, a career .202 hitter, hadn’t had a hit in a month or seen live pitching in two weeks. But the 26-year-old didn’t view what he accomplished as some miracle.
“It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be on the roster for the World Series if they didn’t believe I would help them win,” Phillips said. “I doesn’t always work out, but God-willing it did.”
Phillips was a sixth-round draft pick of the Astros in 2012 and was in their organization until 2015 when he was traded to Milwaukee. He was then traded to Kansas City in 2018.
Bobby Heck, a special assistant with the Rays, was Houston’s amateur scouting director in 2012 and always liked Phillips. When Tampa Bay was looking for bench depth this season, Heck pushed for Phillips and the deal was made on Aug. 27.
Phillips has been a productive offensive player in the minors with an .840 OPS, 92 home runs and 106 stolen bases. He’s also a good defender who can play all three outfield positions.
The Rays saw Phillips as a potentially helpful player this season with a chance to take on a bigger role in 2021. The idea that he would be at the plate with a World Series game on the line was not part of the plan.
“It’s a feel-good story,” O’Connell said. “He’s the epitome of a good professional, a God-fearing guy you’d want to have marry your daughter. I’m so happy for him,”
Phillips actually married Bri Hillman, the daughter of Marlins coach Trey Hillman. She was at Game 3 but returned home with some other family members before Game 4. Not even his wife thought Phillips was going to play a big role in the World Series.
“I told them I’m glad that they left because I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” Phillips said. “Who knows if they would have stayed if that would have happened?”
Phillips grew up a Rays fan in Seminole, Fla., 12 miles from Tropicana Field. That he would one day win a World Series game for his hometown team was something he was still processing a day later.
“We were in the backyard at 8, 9, 10 years old playing that same situation with a Wiffle ball bat,” Phillips said. "Bases loaded, two outs and you’re down by a run in the World Series.
“That’s what it’s all about. That’s what kids need to understand. Keep having those dreams. Have that belief.”