Once upon a time in October baseball, publications including SN would designate players as the “Hero” and “Goat” of World Series games. That tradition is mostly gone now, but the final play of Saturday’s outrageously entertaining Game 4 between the Dodgers and Rays had so many heroes and goats that it’s worth reviving the custom for a night.
To appreciate just how many players need to be singled out on this play, take a look at it first. This sequence gave Tampa Bay an 8-7 victory that evened the 2020 Fall Classic at two games apiece.
Got all that? Good. Time now to separate the heroes from the goats:
Hero: Brett Phillips
All praise to Phillips, who shook off two questionable strike calls that put him in a hole against Kenley Jansen and produced the biggest hit of his career, a looping single to shallow center field that turned into a play for the ages.
“He gave me what I thought was a good pitch to swing at and luckily the ball fell,” he told MLB Network.
Phillips’ focus was on taking the extra base after a bobble by Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor (more on him in a second). He didn’t look back to see what was going on at home. Once he got the lowdown from MLB Network’s Greg Amsinger postgame, he said, “That’s crazy.”
MORE: MLB fans react to wild ending
Goat: Chris Taylor
A team that employs Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, A.J. Pollock and Joc Pederson had Taylor, a converted shortstop, playing center field in the bottom of the ninth. Bellinger couldn’t play the field Saturday after waking up with back stiffness; he was shifted to DH. Pollock started the game in center and was removed for Pederson, who delivered a go-ahead pinch-hit single. Pederson, who came up to the majors as a plus center fielder, stayed in to play left. Taylor moved from left to center. Betts remained in his customary right field.
So Taylor was the one who was charging Phillips’ hit. Taylor appeared to be intent on throwing out Kevin Kiermaier or Randy Arozarena on the bases. Before he could try, however, the ball clanked off his glove.
That’s when the fun really began.
Goat turned hero: Randy Arozarena
Arozarena has become an out-of-nowhere beast this postseason with his bat, but his legs will make him a World Series immortal. Once he saw Taylor’s bobble, he made up his mind to score the winning run from first base. Problem: Taylor retrieved the ball quickly and hurried a relay throw to the infield. Had LA executed the rest of the relay properly, Arozarena, who can fly, would be facing scorn, especially if the Rays had gone on to lose in extra innings. Instead, his homage to Enos Slaughter’s “mad dash” in the 1946 World Series now looks brilliant.
Goat: Will Smith
Smith had a lot to think about on the play: where Taylor’s throw was going (off line), where Arozarena was (nowhere close after stumbling) and whether first baseman Max Muncy’s cutoff throw would be accurate (it was good enough). So he tried to quickly catch and make a swipe tag rather than securing the ball and then diving back to the plate. The ball went off his mitt, pinballed off plate umpire Chris Guccione and rolled toward the backstop.
Could Smith have even let Taylor’s ball go through and take it on a long hop? In retrospect, probably, because Arozarena was so far away from the plate. In the moment, though, Smith thought the winning run was almost home. And so he rushed himself into a game-ending error. (UPDATE: No error was charged officially because the scorer judged that Arozarena scored on Taylor’s error.)
Goat: Kenley Jansen
This designation isn’t entirely for him blowing a save, because of all that was mentioned above. It’s for him not fielding his position. After he saw Phillips’ ball land in the outfield, he sank to his knees on the mound in despair. He neither backed up third base or home plate. He spent most of the play between the two locales in fair territory. He finally ran behind the plate to chase Smith’s drop, too late to attempt a play on Arozarena.
Would a more alert Jansen have had a shot at retiring Arozarena? It would have been tough, but Jansen never gave his team a chance because he became a spectator on the play.