A popular outfielder who couldn’t find a place with the KC Royals claimed his place in World Series history Saturday night.
In an odd sort of way, it’s probably a good thing Tampa Bay didn’t find a way to get Brett Phillips into Sunday’s Game 5 of what is proving to be a dream World Series. Nothing short of a two-out, full count, bottom of the ninth inning grand slam to walk off the mighty Dodgers could have surpassed the drama of what the former KC Royals outfielder did to Los Angeles in Game 4.
By now, everyone knows what happened, making it unnecessary to fully recount the magic of what Phillips, perhaps the most surprising component of Tampa’s Fall Classic roster, conjured up to give the Rays a come from behind, walk ’em off, Series-tying win Saturday night.
The moment is already as well-chronicled as it could be; sufficeth it to say that Phillips, maybe the most improbable player on either club to put an end to one of the best and most riveting games in Series history, blooped what should have been a game-tying single that, via an outfield bobble and muffed play at the plate, became a game winner in the biggest baseball moment Phillips may ever experience.
Fans and media gushed together over Phillips and his postgame interview on Fox. The love is justifiable—it’s difficult to imagine anyone in baseball having anything bad to say about him, and his words and demeanor seemed unequivocally genuine, sincere and heartfelt.
But that’s what KC Royals fans expected from, and loved about, Phillips. Almost from the moment he arrived in Kansas City as part of the 2018 trade that sent Mike Moustakas to Milwaukee, those fans embraced him with a fervor usually reserved for the club’s biggest stars. Nothing he didn’t or couldn’t do on the field diminished their affection.
Unfortunately, though, Phillips was much like current Royal Bubba Starling, an excellent defensive outfielder who just can’t master the art of hitting big league pitching. The .276 he hit in 37 first-year games for Milwaukee in 2017 is now a proven outlier and stark contrast to sub-.200 seasons in 2018 and 2019, the .226 he managed in 18 games this season with the Royals, and the .150 he hit after Kansas City traded him to the Rays in late August for Lucius Fox.
Phillips’ cumulative .178 in parts of three campaigns with the Royals made him expendable when the club’s outfield picture grew increasingly crowded with veteran Whit Merrifield, young major league talents Edward Olivares and Franchy Cordero, and a host of hot prospects including Nick Heath, Khalil Lee, and Kyle Isbel. That the KC Royals let Phillips go came as no shock but saddened and disappointed much of a fanbase that never lost hope that he’d find a way to stick.
And Phillips’ departure will likely leave a void in the Kansas City clubhouse, a fact The Athletic’s KC beat writer Alec Lewis alluded to on Twitter minutes after Phillips shocked the Dodgers and the baseball world Saturday night:
The game’s latest hero also fit the franchise’s player ideal perfectly—he didn’t cause trouble on or off the field, always seemed to understand the need to give something back to the fans who adored him, and involved himself in a community that welcomed him.
Now, and despite the continuation of his hitting woes, Phillips revels in playing for the team he grew up with (he’s from nearby Seminole and played high school ball there). Saturday night’s win just adds to the dream.
Phillips made Tampa’s Wild Card and ALDS rosters but didn’t play in either series, then found himself out of the picture when the Rays left him off its ALCS roster. They chose him for the World Series, however, and he watched from the dugout as the club dropped two of their first three games to LA.
His chance finally came Saturday night and he delivered in the most pressure-packed moment he’ll likely experience in baseball. He did good, as they say, making good things happen to him, his team, and the game.
And that’s fitting. Brett Phillips deserves good things.
Former KC Royals outfielder Brett Phillips had his World Series chance Saturday night. He made it count.