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Commentary: MLB’s worst team didn’t want him. Now, Evan Phillips is the Dodgers’ unsung hero

Dodgers pitcher Evan Phillips delivers a pitch.
Dodgers pitcher Evan Phillips delivers a pitch during the first inning in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

When the game starts at 5 o’clock, dinner comes early. Evan Phillips was eating his dinner Thursday afternoon when Josh Bard, the Dodgers’ bullpen coach, stopped by to talk.

Not for long. The Dodgers were about to run a bullpen game, with their season on the line. They listed nine relievers on their lineup card. Joe Kelly would start, and Bard scampered around the clubhouse, letting every other reliever know when his turn might come up.

Early in the game, Bard told Phillips. But not this early, not replacing an injured Kelly in the first inning, with two balls and two strikes on the batter, with the Dodgers already down two runs in an elimination game.

“He was in a couple scenarios,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “but I don’t know if he was in the A scenario right there.”

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Roberts gave Phillips the ball and reminded him of the count. Phillips threw one pitch for an inning-ending strikeout, then followed with a perfect second inning.

That started a triumphant arms race, a bullpen relay of excellence. Aside from Kelly, who was diagnosed with what Roberts indicated was a season-ending biceps strain, the bullpen delivered 8 1/3 shutout innings: no walks, three hits, nine strikeouts.

Chris Taylor, the hero of the Dodgers’ wild-card win, transformed the team from playoff zombies to NLCS-winning hopefuls with his three-home run game.

“Honestly, I’m not like a dad or anything, but I’m really proud,” Blake Treinen said.

While the Dodgers’ relief arms gave up no runs, the bats produced 11. The Dodgers earned a trip to Atlanta for Game 6 of this best-of-seven National League Championship Series, with the Braves leading three games to two.

Thursday’s pitching heroes, in order: Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol, Treinen, Corey Knebel and Kenley Jansen.

Cody Bellinger was proud of them all, even if he could not recall all of their names on the spot.

“Just can’t say enough about them,” Bellinger said, “starting off with — I don’t even remember, but they all did great.”

The Dodgers win with star power, sure. But they endure with a never-ending flow of second-chance players: claimed on waivers, secured in minor league trades, signed in minor league free agency.

Unpredictable NLCS swings back with the Dodgers now in control of their World Series destiny, writes columnist Dylan Hernández.

Chris Taylor, the offensive hero Thursday, was acquired in a minor league trade. Max Muncy and Justin Turner were signed as minor league free agents.

Phillips was one of seven pitchers claimed on waivers this season, in the service of organizational depth and roster churn. Fringe pitchers come and go, almost invisibly. Of the seven pitchers the Dodgers claimed, four never pitched for the team.

One of the seven, Phil Bickford, emerged as a durable and reliable reliever.

One of the seven was Phillips. He pitched in seven games. The Dodgers did not include him on their roster for the division series, but they added him for the league championship series, as one of their 13 pitchers.

He grew up a fan of the Baltimore Orioles. He got to play for his childhood team over parts of the previous three seasons, but he never could stick on the major league roster, even as the Orioles regularly lost 100 games.

This year, the Orioles did not call him up. He was about to turn 27, he could not make the Orioles, and no one would have blamed him had he decided to hang up his spikes and get on with the rest of his life.

“I have a huge love for the game,” said Phillips. “I really felt like I had a lot more left in the tank.

Chris Taylor hits three home runs and drives in six runs to spearhead the Dodgers’ 11-2 season-sustaining win over the Atlanta Braves in NLCS Game 5.

“Sometimes, it’s about the fit. Maybe I didn’t fit right for the Orioles this season. Maybe they wanted to get looks at other players.”

The Tampa Bay Rays claimed Phillips on waivers and gave him a one-game look. The Dodgers claimed him on waivers and, well, there he was on the field at Dodger Stadium late Thursday, after the game, taking pictures with family and friend,s and marveling at his good fortune.

Until the Dodgers claimed him, he never had set foot inside Dodger Stadium. No other ballpark in the majors holds 50,000 fans, and these were screaming.

San Francisco’s Oracle Park is a louder ballpark, he said, with all the fans practically on top of you. But he reserved a special adjective for Dodger Stadium, with its four levels of seating.

“It’s definitely the most grand environment,” he said.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say the loudest. It’s so spread out and massive that I don’t think you can really encapsulate all that noise. It feels like I’m pitching in a huge coliseum.”

When the Dodgers won their first World Series championship in Los Angeles, they actually played in a huge Coliseum.

AJ Pollock overcame his recent struggles at the plate, hitting two home runs in the Dodgers’ 11-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in NLCS Game 5.

Two more wins in Atlanta, and four more in the World Series, and a guy who could not find a job with baseball’s worst team could be wearing a World Series championship ring.

On Tuesday, when he made his postseason debut, Phillips got a game ball. On Thursday, when rookie Andy Burns made his postseason debut, Phillips, who was credited with the win in Game 5, knew just what to do.

See, now he knew where to find the authenticators. He went up to one and asked for a game ball, then placed it in Burns’ locker. October lives forever in memory, but life is better with memorabilia.


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