ARLINGTON, Texas — The Los Angeles Dodgers were a strike away from having the World Series in an iron grip on Saturday night, one more pitch from Kenley Jansen to put away the last hitter on the roster the Tampa Bay Rays wanted at the plate with the game on the line.
But Brett Phillips made contact and what followed was one of the most bizarre endings of any baseball game, postseason or otherwise.
The result was 8-7 victory by the Rays that defied reason.
“It’s tough to process,” Ray manager Kevin Cash said. “I can’t believe that happened.”
Phillips dropped a single into center field and Kevin Kiermaier scored from second base to tie the game. Jansen fell to his knees on the mound.
File that away for a second.
It only got worse for the Dodgers. Center fielder Chris Taylor took his eye off the ball and scooped it forward with his glove.
With Randy Arozarena running hard from first base, Taylor tracked the ball down and fired it to first baseman Max Muncy.
Arozarena tripped and fell between third base and the plate and turned back. The Dodgers had time to make a play on Arozarena and send the game into extra innings.
Muncy’s throw to the plate was accurate but catcher Will Smith tried to make a swipe tag and missed it.
Arozarena turned back and dove on the plate for the winning run.
Now back to Jansen. He watched everything unfold instead of backing up the plate. Taylor was charged with an error but the Dodgers compounded it with a series of bad decisions.
“I just tried to run as hard as I could,” Arozarena said via an interpreter. “I thought I was out.”
Now the Series is tied 2-2 with Clayton Kershaw starting for the Dodgers against Tyler Glasnow on Sunday.
“I’m still catching my breath. Truly incredible,” Kiermaier said. “Randy was the happiest man on the planet after falling. The baseball gods were on our side. I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know that you’ll ever see anything like that again in the World Series.”
The inexplicable finish was reminiscent of how Game 3 of the 2013 World Series ended when the St. Louis Cardinals were awarded a walk-off victory on an obstruction call when Allen Craig fell over Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks on his way to the plate.
The Red Sox recovered to win that Series. Can the favored Dodgers?
“It’s tough and we got to digest it, but we’ve got to turn the page,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Phillips, 25, is from Seminole, Fla., and grew up a Rays fan. The outfielder journeyed through the Astros, Brewers, and Royals organizations before the Rays traded for him in late August.
A career .202 hitter, Phillips hadn’t driven in a run or had a hit since Sept. 25. The Rays left him off the roster for the ALCS and brought him back for the Series as a pinch runner and defensive replacement.
“Biggest at-bat of his life,” Kiermaier said.
Phillips ran into left field when the game ended and was swarmed by teammates.
“Holy cow,” he said.
As he recounted the play and his unlikely hit, Phillips laughed.
“I’d like to extend some advice to all the kids out there. Keep dreaming big,” he said.
One other plot twist: Taylor started the game in left field and moved to center in the seventh inning after the Dodgers pinch hit for A.J. Pollock.
Pollock was initially in the lineup as the designated hitter with Cody Bellinger in center. But they switched because Bellinger had a sore back.
Taylor had not played center field in the postseason until Saturday. Naturally the ball found him.
The first three games of the Series were played without a single lead change or particularly dramatic moments. When the Dodgers built a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning and had lefthander Julio Urias pitching well, it seemed to be more of the same.
Then the game turned into a classic.
Hunter Renfroe homered for the Rays in the bottom of the fifth to draw them a run closer. The Dodgers responded with a run in the sixth on a two-out double by No. 9 hitter Enrique Hernandez.
Blake Treinen put two runners on in the bottom of the inning and was replaced by Pedro Baez. Brandon Lowe foiled that strategy by driving a two-strike fastball deep over the fence in left center to give the Rays a 5-4 lead.
It was the first lead change of the Series.
Seager and Justin Turner led off the top of the seventh with singles off Aaron Loup. Max Muncy struck out then righthander Nick Anderson struck out Will Smith.
The Rays intentionally walked Cody Bellinger to load the bases but pinch hitter Joc Pederson singled to right field to drive in two runs.
That 6-5 lead did not last long as Kevin Kiermaier homered off Baez in the bottom of the inning. The Dodgers came right back with a run in the eighth on a two-out single by Seager.
All seven runs scored by the Dodgers came with two outs. They have scored 55 of their 94 runs in the postseason with two outs.
Jansen, who lost the closer’s job earlier in the postseason then gained it back, got one out before Kiermaier singled while breaking his bat on a changeup.
With two outs, Jansen pitched carefully to Arozarena, who had homered earlier in the game, knowing Phillips was on deck. Arozarena walked and that set up Phillips to be the unlikeliest of heroes.
“Baseball works in mysterious ways,” Kiermaier said. “You can’t make that stuff up.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.