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.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter
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