Had Will Smith known that Randy Arozarena did a face-plant between third base and home, the chaotic play that ended Tampa Bay’s stunning 8-7 walk-off victory over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night would have turned out a whole lot differently.
“In my mind, I thought it was going to be close,” the Dodgers catcher said before Game 5 on Sunday. “I didn’t realize he tripped and fell. I was just trying to make a quick tag and get it on him. I was a little quick, missed the ball, and unfortunately it got away.”
The Dodgers were leading 7-6 when, with two on and two out, Brett Phillips looped a single to shallow right-center field off reliever Kenley Jansen.
Kevin Kiermaier scored from second with the tying run, but when the ball kicked off center fielder Chris Taylor’s glove for an error, Arozarena, who started the play at first base, steamed around third and headed for home.
Taylor's throw home was cut off by first baseman Max Muncy, whose short relay was a little to the right of Smith but manageable. Smith tried, in one motion, to make a backhand catch and swipe a tag on Arozarena, but Smith rushed the play, and the ball squirted out of his glove and toward the backstop.
He initially wasn’t charged with an error, but Sunday the official scorer changed it and gave him one.
Arozarena would have been caught in a rundown had Smith fielded the ball cleanly. Instead, Smith’s error allowed the Rays slugger to scramble to his feet and slide head-first into home, pounding the plate nine times with his right hand as his teammates stormed onto the field.
If Smith had realized Arozarena tripped, “I would have just caught the ball and not worried about the tag at all,” he said. “I had no idea until I literally went to tag him without the ball in my glove.”
Many catchers prefer to toss their masks aside as plays at the plate develop to give them a better view of the incoming throw and to feel less encumbered while catching the ball and applying tags. But Smith left his helmet and mask on throughout the entire play.
“A play at the plate, I always leave it on,” Smith said. “I don’t know, you’re just taught that as a catcher, I guess. You can see everything with the mask on. It doesn’t hinder your vision at all. I think I make that play 99 times out of 100 with the mask on and 99 times out of 100 without a mask on.”
Smith said he wasn’t expecting Muncy to cut the Taylor's throw home, which was a little offline but playable.
“I took a couple steps over in case it got by him, but he made a good play,” Smith said of Muncy. “He made a good catch, a good relay, a good throw to me, and it’s just unfortunate we didn’t put it all together.”
Shake it off
Smith was also involved in another pivotal moment in Saturday night’s game, a sixth-inning at-bat that ended with Brandon Lowe crushing a three-run homer off Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez to give the Rays a 5-4 lead.
With two on and one out, manager Dave Roberts replaced right-hander Blake Treinen with Baez, who had used an improved changeup to hold left-handed batters to five hits in 34 at-bats (.147) this season.
Baez started the at-bat with two 87-mph changeups, one that the left-handed-hitting Lowe took for a ball and another that he swung through for a strike. Lowe fouled off another 87-mph changeup and took a 95-mph fastball for a ball, running the count to 2-2.
Smith called for another changeup, but Baez shook off the catcher and went to another 95-mph fastball, which Lowe drove 399 feet over the left-center field wall for his third homer of the series.
“Yeah, Petey was convicted in the fastball,” Smith said of the sequence. “He went with it and … it didn’t get elevated enough, and [Lowe] put a good swing on it.”
Smith said he was trying to get Baez to throw the changeup, “but in that situation, whatever the pitcher is most convicted in, you’re going to go with.”
After he spread his arms, dashed into the outfield and celebrated with his Rays teammates the biggest hit of his life, Phillips was given intravenous fluids late Saturday night.
Phillips had so thoroughly exhausted himself after dumping Saturday’s walk-off single into right-center field that he nearly passed out from dehydration. His migraine was so intense he couldn’t even watch game highlights as he recovered.
“When I went to the training room, my resting heart rate was over 140 just lying there,” he said Sunday. “And they were like, ‘Man, we gotta chill you down. Chill out.’ ”
While reporters awaited his postgame news conference, Phillips’ teammates wondered why they couldn’t find their new favorite bench player.
“We didn't even know,” infielder Joey Wendle said. “We were celebrating after the game and were getting to the part where we were going to give him a shout-out and somebody said, ‘He's not here, I think he went to the trainer’s room.’ ”
Wendle said it was the first time he’d heard of a teammate needing IV therapy after a game.
“It was all worth it,” Phillips said. “Just a little hyperventilation going on.”
Cody Bellinger was back in center field for Game 5 Sunday night after back tightness forced the Dodgers slugger to the designated hitter spot in Game 4. “He said today, ‘I’m 100%, I’m ready go to,” Roberts said before the game. … The Rays’ Game 4 win marked the third time a team has won on a walk-off with two outs while trailing in the World Series, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Dodgers have been involved in all three of the games. The last time it happened was Kirk Gibson’s famous pinch-hit, walk-off two-run homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. The other came in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series, when Cookie Lavagetto’s pinch-hit, two-run double in the ninth gave the Brooklyn Dodgers a 3-2 win over the New York Yankees. . . . Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena’s RBI single in the third inning of Game 5 set a postseason record with 27th hit.
Staff writer Maria Torres contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.