By Bob Nightengale |
The Los Angeles Dodgers were the best team in baseball all season, and Tuesday night, walked away with the ultimate prize, holding the World Series championship trophy for the first time in 32 years.
Dodgers’ fans, who took over Globe Life Field, danced in the aisles, and screamed into the night, celebrating as if Orel Hershiser was back on the mound and Kirk Gibson was at the plate.
The Dodgers, defeating the Rays, 3-1 to win the World Series in six games, finally have their own heroes and piece of history to celebrate.
“This is our year,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “We said it. This is our year. Everyone in this ballpark wearing Dodger blue, everyone all over the world wearing Dodger blue never wavered. This is our year. These players right here showed what toughness is all about. Resiliency. I’ve never been around a group that’s closer, that’s tougher, that I love more.”
There were plenty of heroes to go around for the Dodgers, but all anyone could talk about was the ultimate move that led to their glory.
It was the decision by Rays manager Kevin Cash to pull ace Blake Snell in the sixth inning, which backfired in a colossal way, instantly becoming one of the most managerial blunders in World Series history.
Snell, their 2018 Cy Young award winner, was putting on the greatest pitching performance of the entire postseason, and carving spots in the World Series record book with the likes of Sandy Koufax. He had given up only his second single of the game with one out, having struck out nine batters, and had thrown just 73 pitches.
The top of the order was coming up, and Cash did not want but Snell to face the order for the third time in the game.
Cash walked to the mound, and didn’t even give Snell a chance to talk him out of it. Snell cursed and stormed off the mound.
The top of the Dodgers’ lineup — Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Max Muncy — had been clueless against Snell. They were hitless in eight at-bats with seven strikeouts. It was the first time all season that Betts, Seager and Turner struck out twice in the same game, let alone against one pitcher.
Yet, Cash stuck by the Rays’ playbook, called upon reliever Nick Anderson, who had struggled in the postseason, and immediately paid the price.
“I’m not exactly sure why,” Betts said when asked about the move. “I’m not going to ask any questions. He was pitching a great game.”
Betts greeted Anderson with a double into left field, putting runners on second and third. Anderson then threw a wild pitch, scoring Austin Barnes. Seager hit a grounder to first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who quickly threw to home but Betts, with a terrific jump, scored easily.
The Dodgers were up 2-1, and never looked back, with Betts homering in the eighth inning.
“Yes, I regret it because it didn’t work out,” said Cash. “I thought the thought process was right.”
Just like that, Snell’s performance and Randy Arozarena’s heroics were wasted. Arozarena had a postseason for the ages, hitting his record 10th home run of the postseason in the first inning, and wound up with a record 29 hits.
Yet, the Rays couldn’t produce another run, and barely even made contact, after Arozarena hit Tony Gonsolin’s 84-mph slider into the right-field seats. The Rays had only three more hits after the first inning, and one was on a single by Arozarena.
So, after winning eight consecutive National League West division titles, three pennants, and suffering two painful World Series losses, the Dodgers are atop the baseball world.
No more talk of blown championship opportunities.
They didn’t make a move at this year’s trade deadline, believing all along they had the talent after acquiring Betts from the Boston Red Sox on the eve of spring training, and it was certainly proven throughout the postseason.
“I think this group has come together,” Roberts said, “and this group is as close together as any team I’ve ever been part of.’’
And they will be forever remembered in Dodgers’ folklore.
It doesn’t matter that this was a 60-game season, or that the World Series was played at a neutral site, or even with the trophy called a “piece of metal,’’ the Dodgers are true World Series champions.
“It’s been 32 long years since the Dodgers last celebrated as World Series champions,” said Dodgers owner and chairman Mark Walter. “While our schedule was abbreviated, this pandemic year has felt longer than any other. There were times when it looked like we were headed for disappointment yet again. These players had their backs against the wall, but they stuck together and never gave up. They showed what can be accomplished when we believe in each other and when we believe in that dream. Thirty-two years ago, when Kirk Gibson hit that walk-off home run in Game 1 of the World Series, Vin Scully said: ‘In the year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.’ We have a rich history, but no other team has faced the impossible with a year like this.”
They sure did that, winning the most games in the regular season, and in the postseason.
They are champions of the baseball world.
“There will be no asterisk,’’ Roberts said.