Deep breaths, Dodger fans. Deep breaths.
Remember what we said a couple of days ago about not overreacting to every game, every development of this World Series? Saturday was the litmus test. If you can bear up after the ending of Game 4, you’ll be OK.
Or maybe I should clarify that. If the Dodgers can bear up after the ending of Game 4, a glorious ending is still in sight.
Every World Series has at least one game that goes completely off the rails, doesn’t it? This 8-7 victory by Tampa Bay, fueled by that longstanding Dodger tradition of critical home runs off of relievers and decided when L.A. fielders had trouble handling the baseball on the final play of the game, absolutely qualified.
It was 4 hours, 10 minutes of madness, and it brought to mind Game 5 of the 2017 Series in Houston, a 13-10 Houston victory. Yes, that one was aided by technology, especially the parts when the Dodgers blew 4-0 and 7-4 leads – mainly because the Astros laid off Clayton Kershaw’s slider as if, well, they knew it was coming – but the Dodgers still had a chance to win it and didn’t, when Alex Bregman singled home the winning run off Kenley Jansen in the 10th inning.
Jansen set a record Saturday night with his fourth career World Series blown save. But he did his job and could have – and probably should have – escaped with no worse than a tie, only to lose on a play that featured defensive sloppiness from center fielder Chris Taylor and catcher Will Smith, the latter allowing Randy Arozarena to score the winning run even after he fell down between third and home.
Jansen gave up two soft contact hits in the inning, a broken-bat single by Kevin Kiermaier to start the rally and the flare single by Brett Phillips that ended it. That one came in at 92.4 mph, according to Statcast, and left the bat at 82.8. It would have scored one run max, maybe, if Taylor hadn’t fumbled it.
“You can’t beat yourself (up) on that,” Jansen said via Zoom afterward. “A broken-bat single and a bloop single, ain’t no time to hang our head. Tomorrow is another day. I get that situation again, the same situation, I’m gonna get in there and help our team win.”
Give Jansen credit for facing his inquisitors, at least. In the Pandemic Baseball environment, where all interviews are via teleconference and only with selected players, few other relief pitchers would be willing to face the questions after a blown save. Jansen has always been a standup guy, and that hasn’t changed.
Anyway, we didn’t hear from Pedro Báez.
Manager Dave Roberts, liking his reverse splits against left-handers (.097 opponents’ batting average and .273 OPS during the regular season) called on Báez to replace Blake Treinen and face lefty Brandon Lowe with two on, one out and the Dodgers hanging on to a 4-2 lead in the sixth.
Lowe hit a 2-and-2 pitch into the left field seats for a three-run homer and a 5-4 Tampa Bay lead. That was bad enough, but Roberts allowed Báez to begin the seventh after the Dodgers had regained the lead, 6-5. What’s the definition of insanity again? He gave up a 426-foot home run to Kiermaier to tie the score.
If Roberts’ ears weren’t burning by this point, they should have been.
These are the type of games that have Dodger fans conditioned to fear the worst in October and to watch with creeping dread. It has happened so often, it’s surprising we haven’t come up with a catchy title for this affliction.
And yet this madness could have ended with a Dodgers victory. Corey Seager had four hits, including his eighth home run of the postseason, and drove in two runs. Justin Turner hit another first-inning home run to break Duke Snider’s franchise record for postseason home runs. Joc Pederson delivered a clutch two-run single as a pinch-hitter in the seventh for that short-lived 6-5 lead.
This game had a little of everything, including unintentional comedy – though Max Muncy didn’t find it a bit funny when shortstop Willy Adames basically dragged him off the second base bag and, according to second base umpire Mark Carlson, tagged him out to end the fifth. It is one of the rare plays that is not subject to video review, which doesn’t make much sense when a runner can slide into a base, have his foot or hand come off for a split second and be called out on replay.
Will the Dodgers themselves be able to shake this off? We got a sense of how well they can deal with adversity in the last series against Atlanta. With Clayton Kershaw slated to face Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow in a rematch of Game 1 on Sunday night, we might get a vivid demonstration on baseball’s largest stage of whether this team truly is different from its recent predecessors.
“Obviously didn’t get the result that we wanted,” Turner said. “Wild game, back and forth, up and down. But like we said all along, we know it’s not going to be easy. We know how difficult this is. Got to learn from tonight, make our adjustments that we need to make and come back and find a way to win a game tomorrow.”
That has been their mindset from the start – worrying about winning the game that day, and not letting themselves be swayed or distracted by other matters.
It was the best way to handle this strange season, played in empty stadiums and surrounded by health protocols that made it unlike any other in the game’s history. And it will almost certainly be the best way to handle what now is a best-of-three series, one in which not only will a World Series championship be on the line but maybe a number of individual players’ legacies.
“This is certainly a tough one, but I just know our guys, know the coaches,” Roberts said. “And we’re gonna come in fresh tomorrow. I think we’re very resilient. We’re playing good baseball. We got beat but we’ll be ready to go.”
In the meantime, Dodger fans, one bit of advice: After the game ends, just take a few minutes to allow your pulse rate to get closer to normal.