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3-1 Lead Vanishes in a Snap for L.A.

October 25, 2020

Hugh Atkins

Game Four of the World Series ended in a comedy of errors. The Tampa Bay Rays were about to be down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that all changed in the blink of an eye.

The Dodgers were up 7-6 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Rays had runners at first and second, but closer Kenley Jansen had pinch hitter Brett Phillips in a 1-2 hole. Phillips then laced a single to right-center field, setting in motion a series of unfortunate events the likes of which, from the Dodgers’ perspective, would make Lemony Snicket cringe.

Dodgers’ center fielder Chris Taylor tried to scoop up the baseball, but he never came up with it, slapping it toward right field instead. With two outs, base runners Kevin Kiermaier and Randy Arozarena were moving on contact, so Kiermaier was going to score anyway, but third-base coach Randy Linares chose to waive in Arozarena as well. Taylor fired the ball to first baseman Max Muncy who relayed it to the plate well ahead of Arozarena, who stumbled and fell half-way between third and home.

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Catcher Will Smith, unaware that Arozarena was flopping around on the ground, tried to snatch the throw and make a sweeping tag. But Smith started his sweep a bit prematurely, and the ball hit off his mitt and rolled toward the backstop. Arozarena, who had gotten to his feet and headed back toward third base, turned and dove to the plate, scoring the winning run.

As is the case with most any disaster, an after-action review shows that multiple issues combined to doom the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth.

Perhaps center fielder Cody Bellinger waking up with a stiff back was the genesis of the Dodgers’ rapid reversal of fortune. Manager Dave Roberts adjusted his lineup and flipped the roles of Bellinger and designated hitter A.J. Pollock. When Pollock left the game in the seventh inning in favor of pinch hitter Joc Pederson, Roberts shifted Taylor from left field to center and put Pederson in left.

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Taylor is a jack-of-all-trades utility man, but he played only six games in center field this season, while Bellinger is a finalist for a Gold Glove. If Bellinger is in center field instead of Taylor, maybe he comes up with the ball cleanly and tosses it to second base. In that scenario, the game is tied, the Rays have runners at second and third, and the Dodgers are still alive.

The ninth inning began with Jansen striking out Yoshi Tsutsugo. Then Kiermaier shattered his bat and dropped a soft single into right-center field. Joey Wendle lined a shot to left-center, but Pederson ran it down for the second out of the inning. Jansen pitched carefully to Arozarena and ended up walking him. Given that Arozarena stepped to the plate hitting .377 with nine home runs in this postseason, it was understandable that Jansen did not want to give him anything to hit.

Pitches: Jansen to Phillips (from MLB.com)

Things still looked promising for the Dodgers. Thanks to some generous calls by plate umpire Chris Guccione, Jansen was still in the driver’s seat; as I mentioned earlier, the count was 1-2 on Phillips, a career .202 hitter who hit just .176 over the last three seasons. But Jansen left a thigh-high cutter over the inside part of the plate. That turned out to be the biggest mistake of the night.

The errors by Taylor and Smith will live on in the history of this game, but Kenley Jansen’s 1-2 pitch to Brett Phillips lit the fuse that led to the Dodgers’ implosion.

(Game details are from MLB.comstatistics are from Baseball Reference.)

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