Alexander: Maybe the way the Dodgers won was poetic justice

Maybe this is how it had to happen.

Maybe, after all of those years of pitching changes that didn’t work, home runs that crushed dreams and endless ammunition for second-guessers, the Dodgers would finally win a championship because of the other manager’s unforced error.

Those who follow the Tampa Bay Rays, whether they actually attend games in St. Petersburg or not, will be arguing and bemoaning and hashing over this moment for a good long time to come: Rays manager Kevin Cash coming to the mound to take the ball from Blake Snell with one out in the sixth inning, with Snell having given up his second hit but also having struck out nine and appearing to be nowhere near out of gas.

And somewhere in the Dodger dugout, as the Dodgers took the lead against a relief pitcher who had made six appearances in the postseason and given up runs in all six, and had allowed all three runners he’d inherited in this series to score, Dave Roberts was thinking, “Better him than me.”

All of those October disappointments, all of those nights and days that Dodgers managers – not only Roberts but Don Mattingly before him – had to choose between going with a starter too long or going with a reliever they weren’t necessarily sure they could trust … Dodger fans won’t forget them all, but they won’t have to obsess about them any more.

“It is surreal,” Austin Barnes said Tuesday night. If it is surreal for the players, how must it be for those who have watched all those disappointments, to finally see the Dodgers win a World Series for the first time in 32 years and the seventh time in franchise history?

They finally sealed the deal, 3-1, in Game 6 on neutral ground that wasn’t so neutral. The home of the Texas Rangers for three weeks may as well have been Dodger Stadium East. The Dodgers had the home clubhouse, had familiarity with the quirks of the ballpark, and by the end had the majority of the crowd in Globe Life Park.

And should anyone scoff about a championship in a 60-game schedule caused by a runaway pandemic, there was a reminder of the very real health hurdles every team had faced at the very end of Game 6: Justin Turner had been removed from the game after the seventh inning. As the game ended, Fox reported that he’d come out because of a positive COVID-19 test.

After a rash of positive tests early in the season, the game had almost gotten through the end of its signature event, in a bubble, without a positive. But social media erupted when Turner, the heart and soul of this team, came back on the field to hold the trophy and join the team picture.

“A lot of the people who he interacted with (on the field) would be in the contact tracing web,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, referring to the fact that team personnel and their families had all been within the bubble. “And before we are to interact with other people, I think it’s important for us all to clear the requisite testing hurdles to make sure that we’re in a good spot before we do that.”

So the Dodgers might not be leaving Dallas right away, after all, at least until they receive test resulits.

Before Turner returned to the field, he had tweeted this:

Thanks to everyone reaching out! I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA#WorldSeriesChamps

— Justin Turner (@redturn2) October 28, 2020

For sure, this was a twist that was so 2020.

But it didn’t dampen the joy of accomplishment, especially for those who had been through those earlier Octobers.

“Everyone in this ballpark wearing Dodger blue, everyone in the world wearing Dodger blue, they never wavered,” Roberts hollered into the microphone during the trophy presentation, as the predominantly pro-Dodgers crowd roared.

Later, Clayton Kershaw was asked what this might do for his legacy, and he shrugged off the question.

“I don’t care about any of that, man,” he said. “We won the World Series. I don’t care about legacy. I don’t care about what happened last year. I don’t care about what people think. I don’t care at all, man. We won the World Series. The 2020 Dodgers won the World Series. I was like, who cares about all that other stuff? To be a part of that team, all that other stuff is just pointless. It doesn’t matter. We won. It’s great.”

For the record, it does matter. His pitching in this postseason changed the narrative, and this championship will change it further.

“When people talk about him, it’s World Series champion first, then future Hall of Famer,” Roberts said.

But Tuesday night it all went back to the moment that Cash emerged from the dugout to remove Snell with one out in the sixth after he’d given up a single to Austin Barnes. Snell had thrown 73 pitches, 48 for strikes, and thrown 29 four-seam fastballs (averaging 96.3 mph, according to Statcast) without one being put in play.

“I was pretty happy because he was dominating us and we just weren’t seeing him,” Roberts said. “Once Austin got that hit and they went to the pen, I think that Mookie (Betts) looked at me with a little smile.”

If Dodger fans hadn’t seen this so closely and so agonizingly over the years from their side of the field, they might have sympathized. This time? No way.

And it was also fitting that Betts scored the go-ahead run in the sixth by beating the throw home on an infield hit, much as he did in Game 1. He used his legs – and later his bat, when he hit a 434-foot home run in the eighth inning – to put the Dodgers in position for one of those rings.

Remember? The ones he promised the day he signed his 12-year contract extension in July.

The celebration scream Mookie unleashed as he rounded first after the home run said it all. This was the bonus L.A. got when Friedman made the trade for Betts back in February. He doesn’t just provide performance and leadership, he does it with joy and passion, and he makes it easier for others to follow his lead. This never seemed to be a team that was too cool for the room.

It was, instead, a team on a mission from day one. The veterans who had been through these struggles felt it all along, but perhaps it really hit home the moment Betts addressed the team at Camelback Ranch about what it takes to win a championship. Through all of the disruptions and inconveniences that followed during this most unusual of all seasons, they maintained that focus on the mission.

They were the best team in the regular season. And at the end they were not only the best of the eight Dodgers teams that have won consecutive NL West championships, they were the best team in baseball, period.

“I feel like there’s been a lot of times where we’ve sat as a group, we’ve sat in front of you guys and we’ve talked internally and to you guys about, ‘Oh, this is the best team we’ve ever played on,’ ” Kiké Hernández said before Tuesday night’s game. “And, you know, this season, I think we can all agree that this is the best team that we’ve seen since we’ve been here.”

Remember, the 2017 Dodgers won 104 games. The 2019 Dodgers won 106. This one won more than 71 percent of its games in a 60-game season. An accurate comparison is probably impossible to make, given the unusual conditions, but winning the final game of the season was the main separator. Hernández pointed another.

“I guess, look at the trade deadline,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions about a lot of teams, but there wasn’t really a lot of questions about what did the Dodgers need to get over the edge? And that just tells you how complete, how deep we were and we are as a team that we didn’t feel the need to go after somebody to get us over the hump.

“And I guess, you know, just by the years I’ve been here, there’s always been that question about what do they need and what they don’t have. And this year there wasn’t really that. We kind of have it all. And it’s allowed us to be in this position that we are today.”

Which will include being sized for World Series rings.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

 

 

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Alexander: For Dodgers, one victory away from ending the wait

One more victory to a World Series championship, and two chances to get it. Did you ever think the Dodgers would reach that point?

They’re there. They have a chance to turn the devastating insanity of Saturday night’s ninth inning into a footnote. They have an opportunity to end a 32-season drought, and particularly to wipe away the frustration of the last seven Octobers with teams that were good enough to win, and in some cases should have won, but didn’t.

On Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas, Tony Gonsolin will start what is expected to be a bullpen game, and before Dodger fans throw up their hands let’s recall that a bullpen game got the Dodgers to the World Series in Game 7 of the NLCS against Atlanta, although it will be hard to envision them getting another 12 outs from Julio Urias just three days after his Game 4 start against Tampa Bay. But it’s possible.

And if they need a Game 7, they will have Walker Buehler. Do you like their chances to win one of the next two?

(Yes, smart guy in the back of the room, we hear you saying it might depend on whether they can keep the bullpen phone on mute. But Dave Roberts’ moves worked over the last three innings on Sunday night, so you might want to keep that snark under wraps for the moment.)

The Dodgers’ first task Sunday was to erase the memories of Saturday night, and the Tampa Bay Rays’ two-run rally in the ninth to even the series. Three runs in the first two innings on Sunday helped. But really, there shouldn’t have been much doubt in their ability to recover from Saturday night’s ninth-inning gut punch, the end of a weird, wild and ultimately discouraging game.

“Everybody (in the clubhouse) was pretty positive,” shortstop Corey Seager said before the game. “You have to be at this point. Once you (left) the locker room, it was over with. We started preparing for today.

“… (Saturday) night was an extremely weird ending and kind of the whole play in general. It wasn’t just that last play. It was throughout the game, there were points where we could have been better.”

But this is the mantra Roberts has preached to his team all along, since he became the Dodgers’ manager in 2016, and as is often the case with a manager or coach, you can tell it sinks in when the players repeat the things he says. To those in the Dodger clubhouse, it is all about winning a baseball game today, and nothing else matters.

“It makes it easier (to shrug off adversity), but it’s not easy to do,” Roberts said. “I think that past successes or failures, things looking out, sort of bleed into kind of a player’s psyche and a team psyche. But that is a message that we believe in. And so now when you can kind of drown out all that other stuff, past and future, it does make it easier to focus on that night’s ball game.

“And (Sunday night) there were 28 players collectively focused on winning tonight. And we got it done.”

Of course, there’s always the baseball adage that momentum more often lies in the identity of that day’s starting pitcher. It has not always been a given in October that Clayton Kershaw would provide that momentum, but in facing the Rays for the second time in five days he did. His six strikeouts pushed him past Justin Verlander into No. 1 all-time for postseason strikeouts, with 207, and he left the bullpen with a two-run lead that Dustin May, Victor González and Blake Treinen took to the finish line.

Should the Dodgers pull this off, the vindication of Kershaw the postseason performer should be front and center. He came into this year with a 4.43 career postseason ERA, as well as the memories of all of those home runs surrendered in big games.

In five postseason starts this season, he is 4-1, compared to his career won-loss record of 9-11 going into these playoffs. His ERA this fall is 2.93, compared to that 4.43. His WHIP is 0.847, compared to 1.074.

A lot of that has been the result of more reasonable usage. He has not had to go on short rest, he has not been needed out of the bullpen, and Roberts said he thinks those factors have helped.

“To his credit, he will do whatever we ask,” the manager said. “And I just don’t know many pitchers who would do that. But in this situation, in this case, we’ve used him kind of more conventional (fashion). And he’s responded really well. So we’re just very lucky to have him and I couldn’t be happier that the postseason he’s had mirrors who he is as a pitcher. He deserves it and it’s great.”

Kershaw acknowledged that those moments of watching the bullpen finish his games can be difficult, not because of the relievers’ success necessarily but because sitting and watching is harder than being able to do something about it yourself.

“I was talking to some of the guys, Walker and some of the other starters,” he said. “The actual day that you pitch, you feel like you can have some say, some control of the game. But sitting there in the dugout watching the last few innings or watching a whole game, for that matter, it’s so stressful in the postseason, especially just because you care so much.”

But if the waiting was hard before, imagine what the break between Games 5 and 6 will be like, one win away.

“The off day’s gonna be hard,” he said. “It’s going to be good for us, obviously resetting our bullpen and things like that, which is huge. But sitting around one win away from a World Series is going to be hard, especially when you’ve been in the same hotel for four weeks now.

“But, you know, I think we can wait one more day and we’ll all be ready to go. Game six, I mean, for myself personally, I’m still gonna try and get ready, try and recover as best I can and be ready to pitch at any moment, just because it’s the last two games of this season.”

If he’s not needed, so much the better. Either way, whatever happens promises to be memorable.

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Whicker: Dodgers derailed by a gust of craziness in an ‘un-perfect storm’

Because baseball turned into pinball, we’re thinking more about Mookie Wilson than Mookie Betts.

Because Chris Taylor took a peek at the action and looked away from the baseball, Clayton Kershaw is pitching to tilt a world Series on Sunday, not to win it.

Because Will Smith decided to maneuver a baseball before he actually caught it, Kenley Jansen remains associated with bumps in the night instead of strike-three handshakes.

None of that fully explains the runaway train of a Game 4 on Saturday that suddenly crashed into the Bad News Bears.

The Dodgers were one strike away from taking a 3-1 lead in this World Series. Just one fewer misplay would have kept the score tied. Instead, Brett Phillips singled with two out on Jansen’s 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth, and suddenly we were all attending a night at the Improv. Whose game is it anyway? Two runs scored and made it Tampa Bay’s game, 8-7, and now the Dodgers have to win two out of three to nail down their first world championship since Ronald Reagan was President.

Baseball, there you go again.

“It was an un-perfect storm,” said Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager, who could not stifle his frustration and anger at the moment the Jenga tower crashed down.

In 1986 Bill Buckner allowed Wilson’s grounder to roll through his legs, and the Red Sox lost a chance to win their first World Series since 1918. That was a one-car pileup. This was a chain reaction on the freeway.

The Dodgers had methodically answered every Tampa Bay comeback to get to the bottom of the ninth with a 7-6 lead. Corey Seager had picked up four hits, Joc Pederson had produced a two-run, two-out, go-ahead hit as a pinch-hitter, and Seager had floated an RBI single in the eighth to give L.A. the last lead it would presumably need.

Brusdar Graterol had bustled in and overpowered the Rays in the eighth. That summoned Jansen to pitch the ninth. That, of course, sparked a cacophonous Greek chorus of second-guessing toward Roberts, but the truth is that if Roberts messed anything up, it was his insistence on using Pedro Baez and watching him give up two go-ahead and tying home runs to left-handed hitters in consecutive innings.

The Dodgers had lifted Roberts off that hook. Jansen has been throwing well. He did on Saturday, too.

Jansen shattered enough wood on Kevin Kiermaier’s base hit to build a mousetrap. Kiermaier stood on first base with the handle in his hand and not much else. Then Jansen walked Arozarena, which isn’t ideal when he is the winning run. Still, there were two outs when Phillips comes up.

Phillips was a .202 hitter this season. He is a former Astro/Brewer/Royal who came to Tampa Bay on Aug. 27 and hadn’t had a hit since Sept. 25. He was left off the ALCS roster and would have been couch-bound in a normal year when only 25 men get dressed for the playoffs.

Folks in Lancaster might remember him as a scorching hitter for the JetHawks in 2015. But here he was just a guy who would stand on the dugout’s top step and write “Randy Good Player” on his clipboard after Arozarena would hit his daily home run in the playoffs. Later, Phillips would write, “Randy>Your Favorite Player.”

But now he was standing, unsmiling, on the bridge. Jansen’s cutter was sharp when he got to that 1-and-2 count. The 92 mph fastball that followed was straight. Phillips got a legitimate single, and then the world stopped turning.

Taylor was in center. Cody Bellinger was DH-ing because of back spasms. Taylor basically won an NLCS as a center fielder in 2018 when he dived to catch Christian Yelich’s drive in Milwaukee. He has no problem playing there.

Kiermaier was scoring, but Taylor was looking for Arozarena. The ball snow-coned in his webbing and then scooted away, and Arozarena was so excited that he hit high gear, coming around third, and … fell.

Yeah, he just went backside-over-teakettle halfway down the line, in front of coach Ozzie Timmons. But Smith didn’t know that.

Cutoff man Max Muncy made the throw, and Smith was already thinking about the sweep tag he needed to execute. The game wasn’t slowing down for him, either. He swept, and the ball bounced off his mitt as Arozarena was trying to figure out what to do. Jansen was not backing up Smith on the play. The ball rolled to the place where bad Dodger losses are stored. Arozarena went in head-first and pounded the home plate with his right hand, like a wrestling referee counting out a victim.

Phillips was one of the few who saw none of that. He had no idea what happened to Arozarena.

“All I know is that I’ve got a blazing headache right now,” Phillips said. “I just got a hit and started running and now all the boys are happy. It’s the most excited I’ve been since the day I got married.”

The Dodgers have scored 25 runs in these four games and won two of them. They keep beating up on the Rays’ best relievers. They get fine starting pitching, at least for as long as Roberts will let those starters pitch. Julio Arias had eight strikeouts in 4-2/3 innings, but he gave up two solo home runs and was gone.

“We’ll do what we always do,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “After every game, we go back and evaluate what happened. It’s going to be the same way here.”

Nothing will be the same as this.

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Whicker: Brandon Lowe, as in pow, gives Rays the power surge they need

First off, it’s Brandon Lowe, rhymes with “Somehow.” For most of this playoff grind he has been trying to get a hit somehow.

He was 0 for 18 in five games against the Yankees and 4 for 26 in seven games against Houston. He was the final member of the American League champions to remove the cloak of anonymity that tends to shroud members of the Tampa Bay Rays, thanks to where they play and how relatively little they get paid and how few fans bother to see them.

Snap judgments are dangerous in baseball. Judgments over 60 games are, too, just to pick a number. Lowe piled up 14 home runs and 57 RBIs, and his OPS of .916 led the team. It was difficult to believe the Rays could win three series basically without him, but each time they did, they threw him a lifeline.

“Back in college (Maryland) I used to beat myself up pretty bad,” Lowe said. “I try not to do that anymore. I’ve learned to handle that through the years of baseball. It doesn’t matter if I go 5 for 5 with five homers or 0 for 5 with five strikeouts. Once I get home and see my wife, it flushes the day.

“But I wasn’t feeling that good. To say my mind wasn’t going in a lot of different directions, I’d be lying to you. Still, as soon as I’d start dragging my feet, someone would come along and tell me to get it going.”

Lowe was hitting in the No. 2 spot on Wednesday night, as the Rays bravely showed up at Globe Life Park after an 8-3 beating at the hands of the Dodgers on Tuesday. To get behind would be inadvisable. Leadoff man Austin Meadows popped up, and Lowe got to 3-and-1 against Tony Gonsolin and slapped a 95 mph fastball over the fence in left-center. As if he was trying to catch up on delinquent payments, Lowe came up in the fifth and hit Dustin May’s 0-and-2 slider over the same fence. That made it 3-0, and even though the Dodgers replied with homers by Corey Seager and Chris Taylor, Tampa Bay would not trail again.

The 6-4 victory evened the World Series and set up a hotel-bound off day in Arlington, Texas, rather than the cross-country charter flight from LAX to Tampa. It will not be a sleepless morning for Lowe.

“It was pure joy when I got back in the dugout,” Lowe said, referring to the ice-breaking home run. “(Manager Kevin) Cash didn’t say anything to me. I kinda liked that. He just acted like I’ve been hitting home runs for the last couple of weeks.”

There is no such thing as a typical Ray, considering how often management plays 52-card pick up with its roster. But Lowe is the type of “asset” the franchise seeks. He was a third-round pick from Maryland, a player who fought through two bad leg injuries to earn All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors. Then he became the best player in the Class A Florida State League, and last year the Rays made their own singular kind of commitment to him – a six-year, $24 million contract.

It fits in with the Everyman vibe, which dovetails neatly into a we’ll-show-you mindset. Lowe was asked about what he learned from the nature of his two home runs, where the pitches came from and where he sent them, and he just shook his head.

“When you’re 5-foot-11 like me you’re not too worried about hitting home runs,” Lowe said. “I’m out there against guys throwing 99 mph two-seamers. I’m just trying to hit the ball somewhere.

“But we knew this Series wasn’t over. We only lost one game, and we knew we were coming out here with a Hall of Fame pitcher on the mound tonight.”

Whether Blake Snell actually sees the Hall without buying a ticket is unknown, but the lefty is a former Cy Young Award winner and he muffled the Dodgers with well-placed heat and a slider/curve combination that piled up eight strikeouts in the first four hitless innings.

However, Cash has a zero-tolerance policy toward his starters – i.e., he only tolerates zeroes – and the bullpen got warm when Snell walked Kiké Hernandez with two out and then Chris Taylor pounded a two-run homer. After Mookie Betts walked and Seager singled, Snell was gone without a chance for a win.

Nick Anderson came in to strike out Justin Turner, which is tough to do during October RBI situations, and the Rays added to their cushion.

Gonsolin and Dustin May, supposedly two of the Dodgers’ future starting pillars, absorbed most of the flak. Manager Dave Roberts admitted he’s pushing Gonsolin and May into “uncharted territory,”  but it’s difficult to pitch when you’re on top of a trap door.

“It’s a big ask to be quite frank,” Roberts said. “People have to adjust to certain roles. But both of them are going to have to make pitches.”

Roberts did say Julio Urias will start Game 4 after he served as the late-inning hammer in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Braves.

Those inside baseball knew this wouldn’t be a walkover series. The Rays know this is the very best place to make a name, or to clarify one.

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World Series Game 2 updates: Tony Gonsolin to start for Dodgers

Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin will start Game 2 of the World Series against the Rays on Wednesday.

Gonsolin produced a short outing as the NLCS Game 7 starter on Sunday. Blake Snell will start for the Rays.

The Dodgers’ bats came alive Tuesday and provided Clayton Kershaw with support to take a 1-0 series lead against Tampa Bay.

Kershaw, the veteran left-hander, struck out eight and allowed one run over six innings in an 8-3 victory.

GAME 2

When: Tuesday, 5:08 p.m. PST

Where: Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas

TV: FOX (Ch. 11)


Complete World Series schedule | Game 1 box score |


Can’t watch the game? Follow our live updates feed below.

A Twitter List by JHWreporter

 

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Alexander: Dodgers’ Mookie Betts delivers a Ruthian performance

If the baseball fans of New England hadn’t already been experiencing enough anguish watching Mookie Betts spearhead a postseason run in Dodger blue, Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night probably made them even sicker.

Betts became the first player in World Series history to score two runs, steal two bases and hit a home run in the same game in the Dodgers’ 8-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Betts stole second and third in the fifth, the latter the front end of a double steal with Corey Seager, and then broke for home on Max Muncy’s grounder to first with the infield in and beat Yandy Díaz’s throw home, a bit of daring that touched off a four-run inning and turned a 2-1 game into a 6-1 game. An inning later, he hit reliever Josh Fleming’s first pitch over the right field fence, a 349-foot shot that extended the lead to 7-1.

Oh, but there was also this. Betts became the first man to walk and score two bases in the same inning in a World Series game since a fellow named Babe Ruth did so for the Yankees against the New York Giants in 1921. (Fifth inning of Game 2 at the Polo Grounds, to be precise.)

First observation: How crazy a world is this when a man’s home run isn’t Ruthian but his stolen bases are?

Second observation: That encompasses two of the worst baseball transactions in Boston history in one sentence. If you know a Red Sox fan, he or she could probably use a kind word or two about now.

But it’s evident to anyone who watches the Dodgers play, and more so if you watch Betts night in and night out: This club, following that early February trade, is better equipped to win the World Series than it has been at any point in the last 32 years.

“The pressure Mookie puts on other teams is huge for us,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “We felt it before, you know, when we played (him) in the (2018) World Series. He’s bringing a different element to the game for us.”

Clayton Kershaw, who punched a hole in his own postseason narrative Tuesday night with a relentlessly efficient six innings (two hits, one run, eight strikeouts and a slider that was meh in the first inning and masterful in the last five), was asked if, when his team is playing up to its capability, anybody else could beat it.

“I mean, if we play at our best, no,” he said via Zoom. “I think we are the best team and I think our clubhouse believes that. There’s going to be certain times when we get beat, and that happens. But as a collective group, if everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing and playing the way they’re supposed to. I don’t see how that can happen.”

There are the big things Betts provides, like the home run, or the stolen bases, or the crazy good defensive plays he keeps making in right field.

And there are the little things, things that go unseen by the public but not unnoticed by his team.

Case in point: It was late when the Dodgers finished off the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series on Sunday night in Arlington, Texas, nearly 11 p.m. when the game ended and well after that when the team got back to its hotel.

A large number of players congregated in one of the outdoor spaces on the hotel grounds and, Justin Turner said Monday, “were talking baseball, talking about the series that we just went through and, you know, different situations and different plays that came up. Although I think we were trying to celebrate it a little bit, everyone’s mind just went straight back to baseball.”

Said Betts: “It definitely showed that we’re here to win, man. And just in those conversations, you can tell. You can tell. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

And that Monday, for an optional workout on the one day off between series, both buses were at full capacity.

That commitment starts with the leadership of veterans Betts and Turner. It might go all the way back to the address Betts gave in the clubhouse during the first week of spring training, when he emphasized the importance of that ring and described what kind of effort it would take to get one.

He related Tuesday night that he’d given himself one of those pep talks after he’d come in second to Mike Trout in the American League MVP race in 2016.

“I knew it was going to be tough for me to repeat that or get better,” he recalled. “And I think I told myself, ‘I just want to be consistent.’

“Watching the greats play, they’re all just really consistent. You know, they hit their home runs constantly, are driving in runs constantly, walk constantly, make good plays constantly. That’s not just one and then a long period of time before another one. You just have to be good at all aspects of the game all the time. Don’t take plays off. And I think 2016 was when I told myself, that’s what I want to do.”

This is why the Dodgers traded for him. This is why they made sure he couldn’t get away by giving him a 12-year, $365 million extension the day before this shortened season began.

It might already be the best money they’ve ever committed to. Three more victories, and there will be no doubt.

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Video: What went wrong for the Dodgers?

The Los Angeles Dodgers fell to the Houston Astros 5-1 in Game 7 of the World Series. Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish could not get out of the 2nd inning, and the Dodgers batters went ice cold with runners on base.

J.P. Hoornstra, Bill Plunkett, and Jonathan Khamis analyze what went wrong, including answering whether or not Clayton Kershaw should have started.

Also, the guys grab postgame interviews with the Dodgers .

Video by Jonathan Khamis, for the Southern California News Group.

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Whicker: Astros leave Dodgers offense stranded in space

LOS ANGELES — You can send a good-riddance bouquet to Yu Darvish if you wish.

You can build the weirdest Erector set of reasons why Dave Roberts bollixed up the pitching.

In lieu of recognizing that the Dodgers lost the World Series to a better team.

You can wonder all winter why manifest destiny died in the glove of Yuli Gurriel, who took the final throw from Jose Altuve and disbelievingly put his hands on his head as the Houston Astros, who first were named the Colt .45s and played on a snake-infested field with mosquitos the size of backpacks, won the first World Series in their history.

But in the end you have to go back to Dodger trademarks that lost their adhesiveness and fell off, and Dodger habits that they somehow unlearned.

In the tough moments, the big blue offensive machine was taken apart by Houston pitching and never reassembled. With all those pieces on the ground, nothing else mattered.

Game 7 was the most cut-and-dried game of the series. There were no lead changes, no course corrections after Series MVP George Springer creamed a two-run home run off Darvish in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.

Yet Lance McCullers Jr. hit almost as many Dodgers as he did the targets from catcher Brian McCann, and he was gone in the third inning, with plenty of chances for the Dodgers to recover. They didn’t, and their clubhouse reeked of disbelief.

“I thought all day we were going to come in here to win,” catcher Austin Barnes said.

“We left everything we had on that field,” center fielder Chris Taylor said. “I think everyone in here is physically and mentally exhausted. Throughout the playoffs, there was no letup. We’re pretty spent right now. It’s a good time to get away from baseball for a while.”

Their season ended on the first day of November, less than three and a half months from when another one will begin. In boxing they say there is always a style waiting for you, a method to neutralize whatever you do. That seemed impossible after 104 regular-season wins, but the Astros had that secret sauce. It came from pitchers most Dodgers fans couldn’t have picked out of a Starbucks line.

Charlie Morton pitched the final four innings of Game 7 with 99 mph fastballs and great variety and precision. He held the Dodgers to five hits in 10⅓ innings overall, with 11 strikeouts.

Brad Peacock pitched 7⅓ innings against L.A. and gave up four hits.

The Dodgers managed to avoid losing to Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. But Peacock finished them off in Game 3 and Morton in Game 7.

“Morton had that bowling-ball sinker,” Barnes said. “But when they got the five-run lead, sure, they were going to come right at us.”

“He threw me a lot of changeups,” Taylor said of Morton. “Curves and changeups and that heavy sinker, really tough at-bats.”

‘“I think they put the ball in the spots they wanted,” first baseman Cody Bellinger said. “They were aggressive and got ahead of us. We had guys on base, chances to do something, and couldn’t get the hit we needed.”

All season the Dodgers were finicky eaters at the plate. They stayed within the confines of their personal strike zones. They became annoying fouling machines in two-strike situations, and then teed off when pitchers gave in.

The Astros took the game back to where it lives, where pitchers put the burden on hitters. The Dodgers drew three walks per game and saw more pitches than Houston did. But Morton needed only 128 pitches to get his 31 outs in the Series.

“What I learned is that it’s not the regular season, and you have to make adjustments in-game if necessary,” Bellinger said. “And sometimes, different kinds of adjustments.”

Bellinger, who as usual faced more of the media music than any other Dodger, had a strange Series. He wound up striking out 17 times, which is a Series record, and 29 times for the postseason, which is also a record. He started the Series 0 for 13. But then he won Game 4 and did all he could to win Game 5, with a homer and a triple.

Seven games were long enough for Bellinger, as good a defender as either side had, to throw behind Darvish on Alex Bregman’s grounder, giving Houston a 1-0 lead in about three minutes. Bellinger wound up 4 for 28 for the Series and had plenty of company in misery.

Justin Turner, who was far from 100 percent physically, went 4 for 25 with 2 RBIs. Yasiel Puig was 4 for 27. Chris Taylor and Corey Seager were both 6 for 27.

Add it up and the Dodgers hit .205 for the Series and .200 with men in scoring position. More important, their on-base percentage was only .290.

And yet they will have trouble letting go of the very legitimate notion that they should have won the Series in five games.

They had a two-run lead in Game 2 going into the eighth inning before Houston laid waste to the bullpen, and they had three leads in that Mad Max of a Game 5 in Houston before Dave Roberts was reduced to using relievers who should have spent the night in the hammock.

“That’s probably what I’ll look back on, the two games we had a chance to win and didn’t,” Taylor said. “But I’m sure we won a couple of games you could say the same thing about.”

A few Dodgers were giving the “we had a great season” speech without convincing anyone, including themselves. The verge of victory is a more painful resting place than the periphery. Especially when you forget how you got there.

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Video: Dodgers beat Verlander, force Game 7

The Dodgers defeated the Houston Astros 3-1 in Game 6 of the World Series. Joc Pederson hit a home run off Houston ace Justin Verlander while Chris Taylor also added an RBI.

Bill Plunkett, J.P. Hoornstra, and Jonathan Khamis recap the game, while also previewing Game 7.

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Bill Miller’s large, imperfect strike zone ultimately favored hitters in World Series Game 5

HOUSTON — Corey Seager nearly slammed his bat through home plate like a sledgehammer.

Logan Forsythe looked shocked.

Two of the most mild-mannered Dodgers on a baseball field weren’t alone in their reaction to called strikes on Sunday.

Home plate umpire Bill Miller’s strike zone was a recurring cause for confusion – not just for the players on the field for Game 5 of the World Series, but for fans viewing through the vantage point of the center-field camera at Minute Maid Park.

Various social media jabs compared the shape of Miller’s strike zone to the shape of Texas or the Nickelodeon Network logo, an orange splat mark.

The Dodgers had reason to be upset. They lost the game 13-12 and struck out 12 times to the Astros’ six.

Even the Astros acknowledged Miller’s strike zone was far from perfect.

“I probably got a call or two that went my way, and a call or two that didn’t go my way,” pitcher Collin McHugh said. “That’s baseball and this is the World Series and nobody gets here by making excuses and nobody’s going to start making excuses.”

McHugh walked three batters in two innings Sunday. He also struck out four batters; three were caught looking at strike there.

To a degree, this was to be expected. According to Inside Edge Stats, Miller had the most called strikeouts of any umpire during the regular season with 151.

Both teams had access to this data, including which pitches they could expect to be called strikes and balls on the border of the standard strike zone. Brian McCann, Houston’s veteran catcher, said the inconsistency of the strike zone didn’t stand out to him after the 5-hour, 17-minute game.

I can’t update this montage of examples fast enough bill miller the home plate ump for game 5 is calling the worst strike zone this is crazy pic.twitter.com/Yor1XJSeaU

— Horrible Stats (@horriblestats) October 30, 2017

“I think for us, and I think on the other side, we know Bill Miller’s strike zone,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “So I don’t think that at all affected the outcome of the game.”

Umpire assignments rotate throughout the postseason. The crews are handpicked by Major League Baseball’s operations department. Seniority is a consideration. So is performance.

An umpire whose strike zone lacks consistency, or whose calls routinely get challenged and overturned, is less likely to work a playoff game than a more consistent, accurate umpire – at least, this is how MLB tries to draw up the assignments.

Furthermore, no umpire works two consecutive series – a League Division Series followed by a League Championship Series, or an LCS followed by a World Series, for example. Miller worked the Dodgers’ National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks but he wasn’t behind the plate for any of the three games.

By the ninth inning, it seemed like both teams had adjusted. There were no called strikeouts after the eighth.

“I was watching it down in the bullpen and I felt some calls were going their way early,” said Astros relief pitcher Chris Devenski said, who finished the ninth inning and started the 10th for Houston. “We had some calls go our way. But in that situation, I feel like you can’t really let the umpire affect your performance. You just go out there and play baseball.”

The irony of the situation is that a larger strike zone ought to favor pitchers. Yet in Game 5, the two teams combined for 28 hits, 25 runs and 11 walks – none of which were intentional.

For all the hitters’ frustrations, they seemed to do just fine.

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