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How one ‘unperfect storm’ of a play destroyed Game 4 for the Dodgers

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The final play of the Dodgers’ 8-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the World Series.

The video was shown on the Globe Life Field video screens again and again, as if only an infinitely looping replay would make the wackiest of finishes feel real.

The base hit into center. The misplay by Chris Taylor. The relay to Max Muncy as the Tampa Bay Rays’ tying run crossed home. The unthinkable stumble by Randy Arozarena as he came barreling around third base.

But the last scene is the one that seemed to last the longest — the sight of a lonely ball, backed up by no one, rolling slowly, helplessly, unbelievably away from the plate.

Regardless of how this World Series ends, the final at-bat of Game 4 will live on in memory and infamy — long remembered by one team and not soon forgotten by the other.

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“It’s a tough one,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We have to digest it, but we have to turn the page.”

It began with the flare, a soft line drive into center that Roberts never thought would end the game. As Kevin Kiermaier, the Rays runner on second base, crossed the plate, Roberts was planning ahead for the 10th inning.

“Then it kind of spun out right there,” Roberts said. “I wasn’t really prepared for a walk-off in that situation.”

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He wasn’t alone. After Corey Seager’s go-ahead single in the eighth, the Dodgers looked destined to move within one win of a championship. Kenley Jansen had Brett Phillips down to two strikes with two outs in the ninth.

Then …

“I have no idea,” Kiermaier exclaimed during a postgame television interview.

Added Phillips, “I’m having a hard time putting my emotions into words.… It’s hard to believe right now that things are going, that that just happened.”

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The Dodgers were in similar disbelief. That catcher Will Smith closed his mitt too soon on a relay throw to the plate. That neither Jansen nor anyone else had positioned themselves to back up the play. That Arozarena, who began the play at first, had time to round the bases, stumble to the ground about 30 feet from home, and still get back up and slide headfirst for the winning run.

Arozarena remained face down on the ground, pounding the plate as the Rays tied the series 2-2. The rest of his team came pouring from the dugout, chasing Phillips around the outfield grass.

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“Next thing I know, I’m airplaning around the outfield,” Phillips said, mimicking his outstretched arms celebration during an interview with Fox Sports.

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The Dodgers’ reactions were the opposite. Smith gave up his futile pursuit of the loose ball, turning away from the dogpiling Rays. Jansen looked ahead as he walked toward the dugout, immediately trying to bury the sequence of events that led to the Dodgers letting a win slip away.

“Can’t beat yourself there,” Jansen said. “Gotta stay positive. We’re gonna come back tomorrow.”

Roberts’ face said it all, a blank stare from behind the top rail.

“It was like that unperfect storm,” he said.

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Of course, there remain two or three games before a champion is decided. But this World Series almost certainly already has its signature play — even if the team on the losing end finds a way to overcome it.

“Now it’s a three-game series, and we have Clayton [Kershaw] going tomorrow,” Roberts said. “Our focus has to turn to winning tomorrow.”

Added Justin Turner, nothing more than a bystander as that final moment unraveled: “Obviously, we didn’t get the result we wanted. Wild game, back and forth, up and down, but like we said all along, we know it’s not gonna be easy. We know how difficult this is. We have to learn from tonight, make our adjustments.”

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The Dodgers would have said the same thing had Saturday’s collapse never taken place. Except that they would have been talking about clinching a championship Sunday, not having to battle back from their latest postseason mistake.

“You pretty much saw it,” Turner said. “Couple bobbles. Will trying to turn around and put a quick tag on him. Doesn’t squeeze the ball, it trickles away, and that was the ball game.”


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