In this exclusive excerpt from COVID CURVEBALL: AN INSIDE VIEW OF THE 2020 LOS ANGELES DODGERS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON, Dodgers announcer Tim Neverett recalls in forensic detail how the team triumphed over the Tampa Bay Rays in six remarkable games as the team battles to say afloat in this year’s National League playoffs. (Click here to get a copy)
OCTOBER 20, 2020. WORLD SERIES GAME 1. THE MALEDICTION OF
Shifting gears is not easy, especially when your team has just completed an extraordinary comeback to claim the National League pennant. If adrenaline were fuel, it would be the highest-octane version of it over the last thirty hours for this Dodgers club. The message, however, has to be: put the win in the rear-view mirror and fast.
Tonight brought a new team and the ultimate challenge. Win four games before your opponent does. There has been a lot of talk about pressure this postseason. Pressure on the Dodgers because they have not won the big prize since 1988, despite several opportunities. Pressure on Dave Roberts because he has had teams that could have won the last three World Series. Now a new, unfamiliar, but highly talented opponent stands in their way, applying even more pressure.
The Rays do things differently. Much of the new vernacular in baseball as it relates to pitching can be credited to their organization. The “opener” was theirs, so was the “run preventer,” and the “bulk innings guy” too. The Rays gave baseball gifts that keep on giving, that other teams have employed and many have embraced. The four-man outfield and five-man infield? The Rays have done it all and then some, in an effort to compete with the big boys of the American League East, the Yankees, and Red Sox, on an annual basis. They are a team that wants to drink champagne, but on a budget that can only afford discount beer. I look at it like they are a service academy football team (like Army, Navy, or Air Force) that runs the wishbone offense to create an “equalizer” against their bigger opponents so that they can somewhat level the playing field. This season, albeit short, the Rays took care of business against their big-market brethren and fought and “sabermetricked” their way into their second-ever World Series.
Prior to tonight’s World Series lid lifter, things are going as routinely as they can. At one point, the Dodgers had a brief scare when Max Muncy took a bad bounce off the face. He shook off the pain and walked himself into the Dodger clubhouse. Roughly ten or twelve minutes later, he emerged virtually unscathed and resumed his pre-game routine. Meanwhile, all eyes were on Cody Bellinger in the batting cage to see how his right shoulder was responding after his celebration mishap following his Game 7 pennant-winning home run. He smashed shoulders so hard with Kiké Hernández that his own shoulder had been dislocated. Tonight, there is no visible sign of discomfort, as he stroked pitch after pitch during his rounds of batting practice. Not every swing was at 100 percent, but hitters have a BP plan that doesn’t include every swing being full blast. There was a thought that Bellinger would wear a brace of some sort during the game, but since it felt well enough after a day’s rest, he decided he didn’t need it.
The focus is on Clayton Kershaw, as he prepares to make his fifth career World Series start. Kershaw has had his issues during the post-season, when everything is magnified a hundredfold. In 35 postseason pitching appearances, 29 of them starts over a ten-year playoff history, Kershaw has a record of 11–12, one game under .500. He has, however, won two of his last three, and will be a major key to a Dodger win. During the NLCS, back spasms crept up and his start was pushed back to Game 4. Because of that, and the NLCS going seven games, Kershaw just happened to line up for Game 1 tonight. Once he got going, he bounced a few sliders and had to sight in the scope.
The first batter of the game, Yandy Díaz, singled to right and two batters later, Kershaw walked the Rays’ hottest hitter, Randy Arozarena. Both Díaz and Arozarena are Cuban defectors with stories of harrowing escapes, so playing in a World Series game and reaching base in the first inning against a future Hall of Famer, while a thrill, probably doesn’t get their hearts pumping like it does for others. Kershaw then tuned things up, found his good slider, struck out Hunter Renfroe, and got Manuel Margot to bounce out to the mound. Kershaw would retire thirteen in a row before Kevin Kiermaier clicked a misplaced slider for a solo home run to right. The tall Texas southpaw struck out the next batter, Mike Zunino, to end the fifth and record his 201st career postseason strikeout, passing John Smoltz (199) on the all-time playoff strikeout list and becoming only the second pitcher ever to have 200 or more playoff strikeouts. He will have a chance to be tops all-time, if he gets another start in the series. Justin Verlander sits atop that list with 205. Kershaw struck out a total of eight Rays over six innings and threw just 78 pitches to get closer to his 12th playoff win. A two-run blast in the fourth by Bellinger would give Kershaw a 2–0 cushion.
As good as Kershaw was, a certain superstar right fielder was making Dodger fans jump out of their seats and Red Sox fans smack their foreheads in disgust. Mookie Betts put a solid down payment on a World Series MVP award. He was absolutely spectacular and showed, again, why the Dodgers did what they had to do to acquire him. After a quiet first half of the game, Betts was walked by starter Tyler Glasnow. It was one of a career-high six walks for the flame-throwing right-hander with a slow move to the plate. Betts took advantage of Glasnow’s inability to hold runners and promptly swiped second. A shaken Glasnow walked Corey Seager. After a close pickoff attempt on Betts at second, the two orchestrated a double steal to put runners at second and third, and the Go-Go Dodgers were in business. The last team to steal three bases in a single inning in a World Series game were the 1912 New York Giants in Game 6 against the Red Sox.
With runners at second and third and one out, the Rays infield was playing in to cut down a run at the plate. Muncy hit a sharp grounder slightly to the right of first baseman Edwin Díaz, who made a slick grab and a quick throw to the plate in the same motion, but Betts was running on contact and had a great secondary lead and the perfect jump. Joey Wendle at third was well off the bag, guarding the hole against the lefty, Muncy. This allowed Betts to get a better lead and was the difference in beating the throw home with a headfirst slide to make it 3–1.
“Once I get on the base paths, I am just trying to touch home. However I get there is how I get there, but I’m going to be aggressive on the base paths,” Betts said after the game.
The display with his legs was like gasoline on a fire, as the Dodgers added three more runs, making it 6–1. Betts was far from done, as he led off the bottom of the seventh with his second career World Series home run. Ironically, Betts’s first homer in the Fall Classic had come off of Kershaw in the fifth inning of the decisive fifth game at Dodger Stadium in 2018. Back-to-back doubles by Turner and Muncy continued the boat race and got the score to 8–1.
Kershaw left the game and the Rays scratched out two runs, but it was barely a dent. Betts added another base hit in the eighth. Some more historical perspective on Mookie’s game: he is the only player to walk and steal two bases in the same inning of a World Series game other than Babe Ruth, who turned the trick for the Yankees in 1921, in Game 2 against the Giants. It was also, by coincidence, in the fifth inning. Also, by coincidence, both Betts and the Bambino did it the very next season, after being traded away by the Red Sox. The Curse of the Bambino’s World Series drought lasted from 1918 to 2004 in Boston. Will there now be the Malediction of Mookie in Beantown for the next eight decades? Only time will tell.
Following the game, Betts’s teammates couldn’t wait to heap praise on him. “We are so lucky to have him on our team. He is a superstar guy, superstar talent, but he does all the little things right,” said Bellinger.
Austin Barnes added, “The pressure Mookie puts on the other team is huge. We’ve felt it before in the World Series. He brings a different element to the game for us.”
Kershaw was a beneficiary of the play of Betts, along with a fortunate seventh-inning double play started by relief pitcher Victor González. The Rays had put two on the board and had two on, with Zunino up. The Rays catcher smoked a ball up the middle that landed right in the glove of González, who had not yet completed his follow through after releasing the pitch. Kiké Hernández was now at second base and actually broke the other way, so he would not have had a play if the ball was past the pitcher. It was hit so hard that González, realizing the ball was in his glove, had to wait for Hernández to change direction and get back to the bag to accept a throw that completed the timely twin kill.
“I hit it well, and after seeing the replay it was a little more frustrating,” Zunino said. “If it gets by, who knows what happens?” What happened was that the Dodgers took a one-game-to-none World Series lead.
OCTOBER 21, 2020. WORLD SERIES GAME 2. BULLPENNING BACKFIRE
The Dodgers tried to out-Ray the Rays, using their own plan against them, but it turned out to be the wrong solution. Seven different pitchers were used to cover 27 outs. During the 1981 World Series, the Dodgers used seven pitchers total to win four games against the Yankees and capture the Fall Classic. In 1963, the Dodgers only used four pitchers to sweep the Yankees. Sandy Koufax pitched complete-game victories in Games 1 and 4, Ron Perranoski saved Game 2 for Johnny Podres, and Don Drysdale went the route and won Game 3. If that doesn’t give you an idea of just one way the game has changed, or, as many like to say, “evolved,” I don’t know what will.
Winning tonight and going up 2-0 in the series could be huge. Teams that take a 2-0 lead in the World Series, which has happened on 56 occasions, win 80.4 percent of the time. Also, teams that go two games to none have won the World Series twelve consecutive times and have brought home the big prize eighteen of the last nineteen times. Winning tonight is big, but losing is not the end of the world.
Tony Gonsolin is tabbed to start the game, and internally the plan is to have him get through the top of the order and maybe, depending on his performance, let him get through the order once. He got designated hitter Austin Meadows to pop up to Corey Seager at short and then faced struggling second baseman Brandon Lowe (pronunciation rhymes with cow). Manager Kevin Cash had to be getting close to sequestering Lowe after compiling abysmal postseason batting stats. Lowe had been 5 for 56 (.089 avg.) with 19 strikeouts in 15 games. The count was three balls and one strike, and Gonsolin released a 95 mph fastball. Lowe took a healthy cut and barreled up a ball that left the bat at 106 mph and went over the right field wall: 1–0 Tampa.
Gonsolin faced only two men in the second, walking one, before being replaced by Dylan Floro, who was good. The former Rays pitcher went an inning and a third and kept the Dodgers out of trouble. Victor González came on in the fourth and got into trouble immediately. Once he reached the three-batter minimum, he was replaced by Dustin May. May was tagged for two hits and a run in the fourth and, in the fifth with two outs, allowed a single to Meadows and the microwaveable Lowe launched his second home run of the game. Joe Kelly allowed a run on two hits while striking out two in the sixth. Lefty Alex Wood hurled two scoreless frames, while Jake McGee mopped up with a scoreless ninth.
At the plate, this was a different game for the Dodgers. The home hitters struck out 15 times with far too many swings and misses at middle-middle fastballs. The 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner, Blake Snell, pitched one of his better games, locating the fastball and landing a number of backdoor breaking balls to right-handed hitters. The Dodgers made him work for it, but they came up almost empty. Snell was working on a no-hitter until he walked Kiké Hernández with two outs. That walk left the door cracked for Chris Taylor, who forced the first Dodger hit of the game over the right field wall to make the score 5–2 and get the Dodgers on the board. Snell, who was cruising, watched things begin to unravel and was lifted after four and two-thirds. While he was an out away from qualifying for a win, he left with a lead. In the past, you would see many managers give starting pitchers an opportunity to pitch for the win, especially if they only needed one out, but the Rays don’t play that game. Kevin Cash has made it clear to his staff that the only win that matters is the team win.
Will Smith and Seager hit solo home runs in the sixth and eighth innings respectively, but the Dodgers did not put up a fight in the ninth. Lefty Aaron Loup whiffed Edwin Rios looking and got Austin Barnes to fly to left. Cash brought in the burly closer, Diego Castillo, who got Taylor swinging for the one-out vulture save while securing a 6–4 Rays win for Tampa Bay’s second-ever World Series game win. They won one against the Phillies in 2008.
Whatever strong feelings of victory and goodwill that were washing over Dodger Nation after the Game 1 win have come to a screeching halt. During the middle innings, I had the feeling this game had the chance to go the wrong way, but I have witnessed the Dodgers come back in the late innings time after time. They simply swung and missed too many times. The Rays were able to record a low twelve of twenty-seven outs when the ball was put in play and only ten times did the Dodgers put the ball in play in fair territory. That will not win many games.
Tomorrow is an off day. In the World Series, the off day replicates what would normally be a travel day and gives the pitchers an extra day of rest. Not by coincidence, there was an NFL game between the Eagles and Giants televised on Fox on Thursday night that would have been right in the same time slot as a World Series game. I am sure that football game was scheduled a long time ago, before the abbreviated MLB schedule was worked out.
OCTOBER 23, 2020. WORLD SERIES GAME 3. BUTANE IGNITES VS. GROUND CHUCK
It is a Friday, so MLB has issued their latest testing results. All around the country cases are up. The president has been saying that “when you have more testing, you have more cases.” I am sorry, but basic math doesn’t work that way. We have more cases because we have a lot of virus! This past week there were 3,597 samples and zero positives for fifty-four straight days without a positive test among players or staff. With a week or so to go in the 2020 season, a collective sigh of relief will be exhaled soon. Make no mistake, however, there will be severe lingering effects from the coronavirus as baseball is headed into a dark time, with more layoffs and furloughs expected and unknown economic mountains to be climbed. For most teams, they may not return to their financial summits for a long time to come.
The weather in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex took a bit of a turn today. So far, temperatures have been in the 80s for Dodgers games with only a little bit of wind. Earlier today, there was thunder and lightning, the wind was howling, and temperatures had dropped into the upper 50s. The temp climbed to 74 by game time, but MLB made the decision to close the roof for the first time this postseason, even though they had hoped to keep it open for fan and player safety. We will see if the ball carries.
For a guy with the first name of “Walker,” Buehler sure does strike a lot of guys out. I used to work with former Phillies, Braves, and longtime Pirates pitcher Bob Walk on Pirates radio and TV games, and always thought that would be a tough name to wear as a pitcher. Maybe the most productive name ever was Early Wynn, who was a switch-hitting right-handed pitcher who won 300 games over 23 seasons with the Senators, Indians, and White Sox. Buehler’s first name could be anything else because the guy can flat out pitch and is building one of the better big-game resumes in the sport. As well as he pitched tonight, I still think the best game I ever saw him pitch was Game 3 of the World Series in 2018 at Dodger Stadium against the Red Sox. He gave up two hits over seven marvelous innings, carving up the best-hitting team in baseball that year. He would get a no decision as the game went eighteen innings and took a record seven hours and twenty minutes to complete, before Max Muncy walked it off with an opposite field home run off Nate Eovaldi that sent this bleary-eyed and weak-voiced broadcaster to bed.
Buehler pitched to Tampa Bay as though they were snoozing. It lined up to be a great pitching matchup as veteran right-hander Charlie Morton was on the hill for the Rays. Morton has really figured it out in recent years. When he was a young pitcher with the Braves, they were not sure what they had. Folks from the organization told me that they didn’t think he was mentally tough enough, prompting a trade to Pittsburgh for outfielder Nate McLouth. With the Pirates, Morton began to grow, and his two-seam fastball, at times, was as nasty as we see now with Dustin May. He got so many ground balls off of his two-seamer that he earned the nickname, “Ground Chuck.”
I remember former Pittsburgh catcher Ryan Doumit, who occasionally played first base, relaying a story about Morton. One night in St. Louis, Albert Pujols, in his prime at the time and one of the toughest outs in the game, was walked by Morton. When Pujols got to first he said to Doumit, “I am glad he walked me. I can’t hit that guy.” Pujols was then baseball’s version of Superman, and he was telling Doumit that Morton was his Kryptonite. Once he left Pittsburgh for Philadelphia, he learned to rely on his curveball more and the two-seamer less. When he went to the Astros they told him to throw his four-seamer more, which he did, getting his velocity up to 97 mph on a regular basis. Morton became a World Series hero in 2017. I know…I know…2017 Astros…but Morton still had to throw the baseball, and he didn’t hit. Did he benefit from the cheating scandal? Perhaps, but he was still good and didn’t cheat.
It took only three batters for Morton to realize that this night was going to be different. He had been nearly flawless in the postseason so far and hadn’t given up more than one run in a playoff game since the ALCS in 2018. Justin Turner stepped in after Mookie Betts and Corey Seager had made outs. On the fourth pitch, Morton left a 95 mph fastball up in the zone and Turner crushed it for a quick 1–0 lead. That home run, his 11th career postseason homer, tied the great Duke Snider for the most postseason round trippers by a Dodger. Turner would double in the third, reaching another milestone. His 18th career playoff double tied Braves Hall of Famer Chipper Jones for the most postseason doubles in history. Muncy would drive in Turner and Seager, who was hit in the right foot by a pitch, to make it 3–0.
The Dodgers would add two more in the fourth against Morton. Bellinger led off the inning with a single through a gaping hole in the middle of the infield, with the Rays employing their four-man outfield alignment. Joc Pederson advanced Bellinger to third with a single down the first base line. With one out and the nine hitter, Austin Barnes, at the plate, Dave Roberts pushed the right button. Barnes pulled off a perfectly executed safety squeeze, laying it down the first base side and allowing Bellinger to walk in with the Dodgers’ fourth run. Bunts have been leaning toward extinction during the COVID-19 season since the DH is employed in both leagues. I hope we go back to NL rules for the 2021 season at least, before MLB and the Players Association puts them in mothballs for good, once they finalize the next collective bargaining agreement. Pederson came in to score on a Betts base hit to make it 5–0. Morton lasted four and a third innings and was charged for five earned runs while striking out six. “I never really felt comfortable out there. Combine that with who they are with the bat and it made for a rough night,” Morton admitted after the game.
Barnes was again a factor offensively, with two outs in the sixth, when he got around on a hanging slider from reliever John Curtiss and blasted his first career World Series home run. It was the fifth run of the six scored that came with two outs, and each of the runs scored when the batter had a two-strike count. This has happened 36 times this postseason, the most in history. Two-out lightning has been the calling card for this Dodger team during the playoffs, scoring 50 runs so far in two-out situations, another mark that is more than any other team in history.
A man who speaks from experience, Mookie Betts, told the press after the game, “Obviously there are two outs, but you can still build an inning…not give away at-bats. That’s just the recipe for that. That’s how you win a World Series.”
Buehler, the twenty-six-year-old burgeoning ace from Lexington, Kentucky, spun six remarkable innings, allowing one run on three hits, and struck out ten for the first time in his playoff career. In fact, in his two career World Series starts he has allowed only the one run on five hits, with 17 total punch-outs in 13 innings pitched. Buehler is beginning to identify as an October Legend. He is not there yet, but it won’t take much longer with these kinds of performances. “I haven’t wrapped my head around all that he’s accomplished in such a short period of time,” Dave Roberts reflected after the game. “Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage…there are only a few guys around currently and in history. He’s in some really elite company.”
No big deal for Buehler. “I think the more you do these things, the calmer you get,” said the icy-veined pitcher. “I don’t want to keep harping on it, but I enjoy doing this and I feel good in these spots.” One of the main things I like about watching Buehler is he has an edginess to him when he is on the mound. This is not a bad thing. He is ultra-competitive and lets the opposition know it. And he backs it up big time.
So far, according to Stats, LLC, the Dodgers’ starting pitchers have held the Rays to a .133 average (6 for 45), which is the lowest batting average allowed by a team’s starters through the first three games of the World Series since the Boston Red Sox held the Philadelphia Phillies to a .129 average in 1915. The ’15 Red Sox would win the series in five games.
Kenley Jansen came on to work the bottom of the ninth and looked great…for the first two hitters. He left a fastball over the plate to the third hitter, Randy Arozarena, who ran into it for a solo home run. Jansen quickly got the next hitter, Ji-Man Choi, to line to left and end the game.
OCTOBER 24, 2020. WORLD SERIES GAME 4. DOUBLE JEOPARDY
“It ain’t over ‘till it’s over”—Yogi Berra
The opportunity in front of the Dodgers tonight could swing the series heavily in their favor, and they will be relying on the bats to back up twenty-four-year-old Mexican left-hander, Julio Urías. Urías has been excellent this postseason, so good that his six postseason wins are more than any other pitcher under twenty-five years old, all-time. This year, he has four playoff wins and is creeping up on some good company. Most recently, Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals in 2019 won five, Francisco Rodríguez, or K-Rod, as he was better known, won five for the Angels in his rookie season of 2002, and the Big Unit, Randy Johnson, also won five for Arizona in 2001.
Urías, exceptionally talented and not yet in his prime, had some ups and downs during the regular season, leading some to refer to him as “Curious” Urías. There has been nothing curious about him in the postseason, however, as he has been dominant on the bump. Position players have a sixth sense about pitchers when they are on the mound and can feel the confidence that spreads as those pitchers perform. Not every pitcher gives the guys playing behind him a secure feeling, but lately, Julio has been making everyone feel especially safe.
The Dodgers started the top of the first inning the same as the night before. Betts and Seager made outs before Justin Turner hit one out of the yard for a quick point. Turner’s twelfth postseason home run moved him past Duke Snider for the most by a Dodger. He also became the first player in World Series history to hit first-inning home runs in back-to-back games. Another day, another two-out run scored by the Dodgers. Tonight, though, they would score every run of the seven they put on the board with two outs, bringing the postseason two-out run total to 57. A home run by Seager in the second made it 2–0. It was the eighth playoff homer for Seager this year, marking the most by a shortstop ever, and his eleventh career postseason dinger.
The home run was huge for Tampa Bay, as Randy Arozarena led off the fourth with one then Hunter Renfroe started the fifth with another. Urías certainly could have lived with giving up two solo bombs, but the one he didn’t allow hurt the most. With the Dodgers up 4–2 and two men on, Pedro Báez came in to relieve Blake Treinen. The first batter Báez faced, Brandon Lowe, came up with a big swing for the third time this series to put the Rays up 5–4. The Dodgers would retake the lead in the top of the seventh on a two-out two-run single by pinch hitter Joc Pederson that barely glanced off the webbing of the glove of Lowe, who was positioned in shallow right field and diving to his right, to make it 6–5; Kevin Kiermaier lost one in the seats against Báez in the bottom of inning to tie it at six. The Dodgers seesawed back into the lead, 7–6, on an RBI single by Seager, scoring Chris Taylor, who doubled to lead off the inning. Things were only beginning to get interesting.
Lefty Adam Kolarek and “the Bazooka” Brusdar Graterol each went two-thirds of an inning and hung zeros to get to the bottom of the ninth. Kenley Jansen was coming off of two really solid outings, but Dodger fans were still nervous. If one would turn back the clock a couple of years, they would be confident that this game was over with “Kenleyfornia Love” coming into the game for the save. Japanese import Yoshi Tsutsugo pinch hit for catcher Mike Zunino and struck out swinging. One down and two to go. Kiermaier had his bat sawed in half and blooped a one-out single just past the outstretched Kiké Hernández in shallow right center. He stood at first representing the
tying run while still holding what remained of the bat handle. Joey Wendle, a lefty, came off the bench to pinch hit for Yandy Díaz and flied to Pederson in left for the second out. Two down and one to get for a commanding three-games-to-one lead.
It is easy to argue that Randy Arozarena is the hottest hitter on the planet. He is not the guy you want at the plate right now with the game on the line. You can’t walk him and put the potential winning run on, but you don’t want to give him anything to hit right now. Jansen battled him but ended up issuing the free pass, and the Rays put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on with two outs. Kevin Cash was short on the bench and sent up little-used Brett Phillips, who had been acquired by from Kansas City on August 27. Phillips had not come to the plate in 23 days. October baseball magnifies everything, and it is players like Phillips that sometimes become heroes. Jansen got ahead of him and got the count to one ball and two strikes. The Dodgers were one measly strike away.
Jansen, in his deliberate fashion, settled into the stretch position. He lifted his front (left) foot and pushed his body toward the plate. While pushing off the rubber with his driving right leg he released his calling card: the cutter. It approached the plate and didn’t cut much. Phillips got the bat around and hit a sinking line drive into right center. Bellinger was the DH on this night due to tightness in his lower back, so he was on the bench. A.J. Pollock had started in center, but when he was lifted for a pinch hitter, Taylor moved from left to center. Keirmaier was running on contact and had a good jump. He was not going to stop until he got to the plate. Taylor had to move in and to his left to play the ball. He was trying to be aggressive with a chance to throw Kiermaier out at the plate and end the game. It wouldn’t be the first time, as he had done it from left in a game against the Padres earlier in the season. The ball didn’t cooperate on the two-hopper that bounced off the artificial surface, hitting the edge of the web of Taylor’s glove and glancing several feet away.
Arozarena was running aggressively and had rounded third base, but he slipped and fell on his way to the plate. Phillips was trying to get in a run-down, but the Dodgers treated him as though he were invisible. Taylor recovered the ball and threw it to Max Muncy, the cut-off man. Muncy turned and relayed the ball to catcher Will Smith. The throw was a little bit to Smith’s right, so he had to reach across his body to catch it. He was not aware that Arozarena had picked himself up and started back to third base. Smith apparently thought Arozarena was still coming, and would have had no way of knowing that he wasn’t, so he attempted a catch and sweep tag in the same motion. The ball bounced out of the web of his glove. Arozarena realized it and reversed direction again, rumbling to the plate to score the winning run with a headfirst slide. The Dodgers were stunned. While Arozarena was still laid out and slapping home plate with his right palm, Phillips was running around the infield with his arms extended like the wings of an airplane.
Jansen pitched well. He didn’t give up any hard-hit balls. The only thing he didn’t do well was back up the plate on the throw home and, for some reason, was positioned several feet up the third base line. It was double jeopardy, as Jansen didn’t pitch poorly to deserve the criticism he received and there were two errors charged on the play; one to Taylor for bobbling the ball and one to Smith for dropping it. It was the first time in World Series history that a game ended on a double error. The Rays tied the series up at two despite being one strike away from being down three games to one. That’s baseball. Sometimes the game loves you, other times it breaks your heart.
After the game a somber Dave Roberts expressed his thoughts. “They were the best team in the American League. Those guys fight.” His counterpart in the Rays dugout returned the compliment: “They get early runs. We answer back. Then they answer again. We just couldn’t stop them, and that is a credit to how talented that club is top to bottom.”
The Rays won 8–7 in walk-off fashion. Due to the game ending on two errors, it is not technically a walk-off win. They didn’t care, and got to enjoy the night and experience all the elation that comes with an emotional victory like that. That game was one for the ages, an instant World Series Classic. The Dodgers had a job to do now, and that was to forget what just happened and focus on Game 5.
OCTOBER 25, 2020. WORLD SERIES GAME 5. KERSHAW CLAMPDOWN
The calming presence of future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw is being felt around the Dodger clubhouse and in the dugout. Less than twenty hours ago, the Rays pulled off a stunning defeat. The Dodgers have scrubbed that game off with a wire brush and moved on to today. Baseball players are wired, from an early stage of their development, to think compartmentally. What happened yesterday, or five minutes ago, isn’t going to change, so it is immediately relegated to the past. A player doesn’t dwell on failure. Every day is a rebirth in the game of baseball where yesterday matters none.
Tyler Glasnow was making his second career World Series start after taking the loss in Game 1 against Kershaw. A couple of seasons ago, the six-foot eight-inch right-hander was probably involved in one of the most one-sided trades in recent history. Glasnow was a fifth-round pick of the Pirates in 2011 and was developing well with them. Outfielder Austin Meadows was taken by Pittsburgh in the first round two years later. Those two, along with a solid relief arm in Shane Baz, another first round pick in 2017, went to Tampa for right-handed starter Chris Archer. Archer has been hurt a lot with the Pirates, and it is painfully obvious now that he is on the back nine of his career. One Pirates executive, when I asked why they would make such a trade, told me, “Well, we had to do something.”
It took only two batters for the Dodgers to do something against Glasnow tonight. Mookie led off the game with a double and scored two pitches later when Corey Seager hit a curveball for a single. If you blinked, you probably missed it. Two wild pitches and a Cody Bellinger single later, the Dodgers were up 2–0. Joc Pederson showed some “Joctober” action and led off the second with a 428-foot smash that he admired all the way out of the yard to make it 3–0.
In the bottom of the third, the Rays got on the board when Kevin Kiermaier led off with an infield single. Mike Zunino struck out looking before Yandy Díaz hit a run-scoring triple into the right field corner. Randy Arozarena got Díaz in with a single while recording his 27th hit of the postseason, a new record. Brandon Lowe struck out swinging, and Arozarena, who was on the move to second, got gunned down by Austin Barnes for a “strike ’em out, throw ’em out” inning-ending double play.
The bottom of the fourth inning was tense. Kershaw walked the first batter, Manuel Margot. Margot was a Red Sox prospect who was traded along with three others to the Padres in the deal that saw them lock down closer Craig Kimbrel to Fenway. Margot was acquired by Tampa before spring training in 2020, after playing in the Dominican Winter League for Toros del Este in La Romana. He just happened to be playing center for the eventual LIDOM champions during a game my family and I attended in La Romana this past December. The Dodgers suspected Margot would try to steal. Kershaw used his good pickoff move and Max Muncy slapped the tag on Margot as he dove safely back to first. It was close enough that Dave Roberts asked for a video review, but the call was upheld. On the next pitch to Hunter Renfroe, Margot broke for second and had the bag stolen, but the throw from Barnes sailed and second baseman Chris Taylor did not catch it. Margot went to third and Taylor was charged with an error. Renfroe then walked. Back-to-back walks by Kershaw, runners at the corners, and nobody out. Joey Wendle popped up to Seager and Willy Adames struck out. At this point, Margot took a huge gamble. Kershaw has a big stretch, placing both arms as high as they can go over his head. Being a lefty, his back is to the runner at third. With two outs and Justin Turner playing off the bag against the left-handed-hitting Kiermaier, Margot extended his lead. He had been timing Kershaw’s move to the plate and was preparing a major move.
The only way Kershaw could know if a runner breaks for home is if the first baseman lets him know. Muncy was on it. He yelled at his fellow Texan, “…going home!” Without looking, Kershaw stepped off the rubber and sent the ball to Barnes, who got the tag down on a head-first-sliding Margot in the nick of time to snuff out the gutsy straight steal attempt and keep the tying run off the scoreboard. This was the turning point of this ballgame.
Muncy hit a no-doubt blast with two outs in the top of the fifth on a 99 mph Glasnow fastball. Max enjoys watching the flight of the ball maybe more than any other Dodger. He knew it was gone on contact, flicked the bat out in front of him, and got a good view of it, as it took him a while to get to first base. The Muncy bomb made it 4–2 and it was time to declare “Code Red” from the bullpen. Dustin May has had a few struggles this World Series, but Dave Roberts and first year pitching coach Mark Prior’s conversation with him this week about how much confidence that they have in him may have helped. May went a scoreless inning and two-thirds, striking out Margot for the third out of the sixth. Kershaw got the first two outs of the inning on just two pitches, and the fact that he was coming out of the ball game might have been confusing to many.
The Dodgers went in with a plan for Kershaw, and that plan was that he would face 21 hitters and be done. But he just got two outs on two pitches and is sitting on 85 pitches. Why take him out? Let him face the next man with no one on and a two-run lead, right? Not exactly. One of the things a manager gets criticized for most is whether he took a pitcher out too soon or left him in too long. Roberts has been hammered by the fans and press for this in the past, especially regarding Kershaw. “That was the plan. We talked about it before the inning and though it was just two pitches…we stuck with the plan,” Kershaw said after the game. “So, credit to Doc for that one, and D. May came in the threw the ball awesome and Victor and Blake, too. Unbelievable job by those guys tonight.”
Victor González and Blake Treinen, pitching for the third consecutive day, clamped down on the Rays, combining to throw an inning and two-thirds scoreless, with Treinen closing the game. Jansen had his fill of drama the night before.
The Dodgers are up three games to two and have the upper hand in the World Series with a day off and a Texas BBQ dinner coming. My gut tells me they would trade the day off to get right back on the field, but a day off is huge for the arms to get some much-needed rest. Game 6 on Tuesday night becomes close to an all-hands-on-deck situation, with Kershaw unavailable and Urías and Buehler unlikely. Buehler and Urías could be saved for a possible Game 7, but if the right opportunity presented itself, Julio was most likely to get called into action. Who knows if we have seen the last of Kershaw in this series. Whatever happens the rest of the way, Kershaw’s postseason legacy has changed for the better, as he’s gone 2-0 in this series and was dominant in Game 1. The Dodgers now have a chance to wrap up their first World Series since 1988.
OCTOBER 27, 2020. WORLD SERIES GAME 6. WAIT FOR THE PLOT TWIST
It’s 39 degrees out and a cool mist consumes the air. The roof will be closed for tonight’s possible World Series-clinching game. Realistically, this series could already be over, if not for the bullpen breaking down in Game 2 and Game 4’s two-out, two-strike, two-error, two-run play that flipped the game in favor of the Rays. There are hundreds of fans who have driven to Dodger Stadium to be together in a packed parking lot to watch this game on the big screen like they are at a drive-in movie, creating an atmosphere of community based around their love of the Dodgers.
Today’s LA Times ran a story by Rong-Gong Lin II and Iris Lee about how local health officials are alarmed that Lakers and Dodgers fans congregating to view games and celebrate wins are ignoring protocols and possibly contributing to the spread of the virus. “Public health officials have identified gatherings as a significant source of virus transmission in Southern California, where young adults are driving the spread of the highly contagious disease,” it said. Cases have risen on a per-week basis in Southern California during the first week in October to twelve hundred new cases each day as of last week, according to LA County’s director of public health. With cases spiking all over the country and the spikes expected to get worse as we head into winter, the hope is that we don’t go so far backwards that we have to lock down again. Baseball will prevail in 2020, however, and will finish the entire schedule on time. The hope for LA is that it ends tonight.
Knowing you have a game cushion if you need it is not something that the Dodger players want in the back of their heads. As players, they are focused on winning the game in front of them. “We’re not worried about a second chance, we are just worried about tonight. We’re going to do whatever we can to win a ballgame tonight,” Justin Turner said in a pre-game presser. Turner and his teammates would have something much more important to worry about just a few hours later.
The numbers coming into this game were rather one-sided, considering Tampa Bay was still very much in the series. The Dodgers entered the game hitting .354 with runners in scoring position in the World Series, and an even more impressive .366 with two strikes on the hitter and two outs in the inning, with four home runs in such situations. Eleven home runs have been hit by nine different players. This is something that has never been done in World Series history. There were 59 runs scored with two outs over the course of the post-season; a feat that also had never been accomplished in the history of the Fall Classic.
Randy Arozarena is playing on another level. One has to ask why the Dodgers are even pitching to him at this point. Tony Gonsolin was looking for a good start, and the Dodgers were hoping for five innings from him. Dave Roberts said before the game that Gonsolin was a legit starter and they were hoping for some length. Arozarena was there to upset that plan. Gonsolin struck out Ji-Man Choi to start the game before having to face Arozarena for the first and what would be the only time during the evening. Gonsolin wasn’t ready to try his fastball on the hottest hitter on the planet, so he started him off with a slider that was called a strike as Arozarena was clearly taking all the way to get a look at Gonsolin. Tony was sticking to the plan and wanted to induce a chase to get way ahead in the count. Four pitches later, he delivered another slider, but this time he started it over the outer half of the plate and wanted it to end up maybe a foot outside. It did exactly that, but the fifth pitch of the game was swung on with Arozarena getting enough barrel on the baseball to send it over the right field wall for an opposite-field solo home run, giving the Rays a quick 1–0 lead before some of the 11,437 fans could even get in their seats. How did he hit that pitch out? He finished the World Series with a record 29 postseason hits, more than anyone ever. Snellzilla from 2018. Then, out of the realm of the unexpected, something shocking happened. Following Barnes’s one-out single in the sixth, Kevin Cash came out of the first base dugout. He was coming to get Snell. Are you kidding me? The Dodgers had no idea how they were going to solve him, he had only thrown 73 pitches, and he was yanked from the ballgame while shoving a two-hit shutout at the best team in baseball. This is a decision that will haunt Cash and the Rays for the rest of time.
I realize that the Rays are different, that Snell had not pitched past the sixth inning all season, but this is an elimination game in the World Series! Ride the horse that got you there. Whatever happened to managers making decisions with their eyes and guts? The Rays have a system that got them within two wins of a World Series title, but in this game and this moment, Cash stuck with the organizational plan that Snell would not be allowed, no matter what, to face the Dodger lineup a third time, the same lineup he’d been slicing and dicing.
“I believe in me and I believe in what I was doing,” the despondent pitcher said following the game. “I didn’t walk anybody. For most of that game, man, I was dominating every possible outcome.”
Cash put in right-hander Nick Anderson, who had been great during the regular season but had allowed runs in each of his last six appearances during the postseason. The Rays were using their formula of getting to their usually excellent bullpen. The happiest person about this move was Mookie Betts, who’d been tormented by Snell, not only in his first two at-bats, but during his time facing him in the AL East. “I was like, I got a chance,” a smiling Betts offered after the game. “I wasn’t asking any questions, though. I was just like, Hey, your manager said you gotta go, next guy’s coming in. At that point, I tried to put an at-bat together and go from there…had he stayed in the game, he may have pitched a complete game. Once he came out of the game, it was just a breath of fresh air.”
Anderson threw three pitches to Betts, with the third drilled down the left field line for a double. Barnes was held at third. A swinging strike was next on the first pitch to Corey Seager. The next pitch was in the dirt and went to the backstop, allowing Barnes to score the tying run while Betts advanced to third. With the Rays’ infield in and Betts getting a good lead, the contact play was on. Seager hit a grounder to first. Betts had a great secondary lead and an even better break on contact. His headfirst slide beat Choi’s throw and the Dodgers had their first lead of the game, 2–1. It took only six pitches from Anderson to lose the lead and ultimately the big prize. This was a backfire of epic proportions.
Betts twisted the dagger in Tampa Bay even deeper when leading off the bottom of the eighth with a mammoth 434-foot solo shot to left center off of hard-throwing reliever Pete Fairbanks. Fairbanks used his fastball twice to start the at-bat against Betts, but then hung a slider into another Mookie Moment. It was the second time that Betts had homered in the deciding game of a World Series, as he had also done it in Game 5 against the Dodgers in 2018 at Dodger Stadium. As euphoria was starting to creep into the Dodger dugout with the realization that a world championship was becoming more imminent, something much more sinister had infiltrated the Dodgers’ bubble. Justin Turner was missing, replaced at third by Edwin Rios, without explanation, in the top of the eighth. Turner, the heart and soul of this team, was not a player who would be replaced for defense late in a game and was nowhere to be seen.
Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in South Jordan, Utah, near Salt Lake City, is the lab that has been testing and processing test samples this season. The lab reached out to MLB during the second inning to say that a Dodger player’s results from yesterday came back inconclusive. The group of samples in question arrived at the lab later than normal, preventing them from getting any results to MLB before the game. Now the next and most recent set of tests would be looked at with that particular player’s test expedited. It would take about two hours. Late in the seventh inning, the lab completed the test and results eventually went through the chain to the Dodgers dugout. It was the top of the eighth and Turner did not run out to his position. The game would go on without him.
Walker Buehler delivered the news to his teammates in the bullpen in the seventh. He went to the bullpen to be with his fellow pitchers and to be ready just in case he was needed, even though he was slated to start Game 7. He passed on the word of Turner’s positive test. His teammates thought it was a prank. Buehler had to sell it hard to get his teammates to believe him. Once they saw Rios at third, they knew it was true.
Dave Roberts may have done his best job of handling the pitching staff with the bullpen turning in their best performance of the season, covering seven and a third scoreless innings. The best move that Roberts made, however, was the one he didn’t make. Instead of going to the bullpen to close out the ninth and perhaps using a rested Kenley Jansen, as his formula has called for so many times in the past, he left Urías in to finish. He went with feel, using his eyes and his gut. It was a case of going with the hot hand, and Urías was red hot facing the last seven hitters, striking out four, including the last two, pinch hitter Mike Brosseau and shortstop Willy Adames, looking to put a big blue bow on the franchise’s first World Series title in thirty-two years.
It had been two months without a positive test for Major League players and staff, and right there during the World Series, a player with the virus was participating in the game. Turner was to be isolated once notified, but once the celebration ensued, he left isolation and joined his team on the field. While his teammates and staff wanted him there because of his contributions and status on the team, he may have been spreading the virus around. Ironically, it had been Turner who led the charge to tighten up protocols back in late July, when he sent a text to some who cover to the team to let us know how over and above the players had decided to go in addition to the already established MLB protocols. He had been out front in sticking to those health and safety measures because he, as well as his teammates, knew they had a team that could win it all. He was the Dodgers’ ringleader for following the rules and staying healthy and now would become the poster child for the fact that the virus can infect you no matter who you are or where you are.
Turner sent out a tweet shortly after Game 6:
“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”
There are many questions and thoughts about the bittersweet moment that clouds up such a fabulous time in Dodger history. First, how did he contract the virus while existing in a bubble situation for three weeks? How was he allowed back on the field if contagious? What if the Rays came back and won, then when would a Game 7 have been played? There were far more questions than answers during this time and answers that MLB and the Dodgers will certainly investigate.
MLB dodged a bullet with the Dodgers winning, and the relief expressed by Rob Manfred while presenting the World Series trophy to Chairman Mark Walter and President Stan Kasten was obvious. The team that had set the example on how to play coronavirus-free was now infected and had to stay in Texas longer than anticipated due to further testing. The fallout and the story of Turner’s positive test will be felt for a while.
How is it that a pitcher who is throwing a two-hit shutout in the World Series doesn’t stay in the game as long as a player who has COVID-19? This might be the most 2020 thing about baseball in 2020.
Corey Seager was presented with the Willie Mays Award as the Most Valuable Player of the World Series and deserved not only the huge trophy but the brand-new Chevrolet Tahoe that came with it. He also won the NLCS MVP, which only seven other players have accomplished in the same postseason. “This team was incredible all throughout the year,” Seager said afterward. “All throughout the postseason, all throughout the quarantine we never stopped. We were ready to go as soon as the bell was called and once it did, we kept rolling.”
Much of the post-game attention, aside from Turner, was directed toward Kershaw. Teammates sought him out to hug him and talked to the press about how happy they were for him. Dave Roberts did the same when he accepted the World Series trophy on stage. The pitcher had always been the bridesmaid and never the bride, climbing to the mountaintop but never touching the summit. His two wins and solid playoff performances flipped his legacy from a guy who “can’t get it done when it counts,” to a guy who did. 2017’s World Series probably should not count against him since the Astros batters knew what pitches he was throwing. Having the opportunity to see Kershaw’s smile and raw emotion was meaningful, and to see his three kids running around on the field with him was great, too.
Mookie Betts, who doesn’t tweet often and does most of his social media on Instagram, sent out a post-game message.
“THE JOB IS FINISHED!!!!! This one’s for you LA – the City Champions! Enjoy the hell out of it, but you know these boys aren’t done chasing rings!!!”
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.