Phillips helps Rays slam Orioles once more

by Gary Shelton on August 9, 2021

in general

Meadows hit his 21st homer./CHUCK MULLER

Monday, 4 a.m.

How many moments such as this one will it take for Brett Phillips to be recognized as an official cult hero for the Tampa Bay Rays?

Oh, there are better players, more consistent players, than Phillips. The thing about Phillips, however, is that he never seems to hit when the moment doesn't matter.

Did you see him round the bases Sunday after his eighth-inning grand slam, grinning as his teammates piled out of the dugout? Couple that with his other moments -- the airplane celebration is last year's post-season, the closing in the bullpen before he came in to pitch, the goofing around on the bench during ESPN's recent broadcast, the celebration after his other grand slam 11 days ago.

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Phillips seems to be on the way into turning himself into a memory -- Dan Johnson, anybody? He's the team's lovable goofball, perhaps the most popular .206 hitter the team has ever had.

Phillips hit two home runs Sunday, including the eighth-inning slam, to lead the Rays to a 9-6 win and a sweep of their three-game series. Once again, the Rays came from behind to win. Once again, they piled up the runs late. Once again, they battered the Orioles' bullpen without mercy.

"A blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then," Johnson said. "This squirrel has found two in the last 11 days."

There is a quality to Phillips that makes you want to share his smile. On a lot of teams, he'd be a pinch-runner and a late-inning defensive replacement. Here, he has worked his way into the mix.

“When I was coming around third,  and I saw everyone outside the dugout, it reminded me a little bit of winter ball, where everyone is genuinely fired up and excited. I’m all about that. That was more exciting than the home run itself, seeing everyone so fired up for me. "

The Orioles jumped Rays' starter Michael Wacha early, and it looked as if the lesson for the day would be the Rays' suspect starting pitching. Wacha gave up five runs and 10 hits in the first five innings, and it appeared the deficit could have been greater.

But the Orioles are in the cellar for a reason. The Rays have now scored 51 times against the Orioles' bullpen in 44 2/3 innings. Tampa Bay has now scored 215 runs from the seventh inning or later, the most in the majors. It was their league-leading 35th comeback win (out of 68 wins).

"Man, did Philly come through," Rays' manager Kevin Cash said. "Just a lot of late-inning offense, really good at-bats. We’re  going to take runs any way we can get them. It’s tough to hit in this league. Maybe it takes a little more time here as of late.

"They’ve done that (come back) for a long time. This has been a resilient group that can bounce back from tough series, tough innings or a tough start to games. They continue to show that."

The Rays are off today, then travel to Boston to play the second-place Red Sox at Fenway Park on Tuesday night (7:10 p.m.) Luis Patino will start for the Rays against Eduardo Rodriguez.

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