Victor Gonzalez didn’t have to be there.
He was a Tommy John survivor, a left-hander who let his frustration drive him out of baseball and back to Mexico, not even a face in the burgeoning Dodger crowd. A year ago he was just hoping the Dodgers would protect him on their 40-man roster. They did and, on Tuesday, he was there.
Austin Barnes didn’t have to be there.
He was a converted second baseman from Arizona State, not particularly laden with baseball tools, a useful backup catcher in 2017 and 2018. Last year he was miles away from the action, off the playoff roster, displaced by Russell Martin. Barnes was supposed to be exiled by yet another well-prepared kid, Keibert Ruiz. On Tuesday, Barnes was there, too.
Alex Wood certainly didn’t have to be there, even though he was a 16-3 pitcher in 2017 and won a World Series game amid all the clashing of trashcan lids in Houston.
The Dodgers shipped him to Cincinnati, and he missed nearly all of 2019 with a back injury. He came back this season but only pitched nine times. An expanded roster in this distorted season allowed him to bring his left arm into play. But, on Tuesday, he was there.
The Dodgers won the World Series, 3-1, in Game 6. Because of the 32 madcap years that separated them from their 1988 championship, years that featured the Mike Piazza trade, Frank McCourt, Darryl Strawberry, Milton Bradley, Yasiel Puig, and a numbing grand slam 12 months ago by Howie Kendrick at Dodger Stadium, this one couldn’t be normal.
It happened on a freezing night in North Texas in a ballpark that was only finished this spring. Justin Turner left, mysteriously, in the seventh inning and, after Julio Urias got the final out, everyone learned that the veteran third baseman had tested positive for COVID-19.
But Game 6 will be known for the predictably robotic pitching decision made by Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, on a night when the Dodgers couldn’t have hit Blake Snell if he’d shown them pitch-selection flash cards.
The first 17 L.A. hitters had one hit and had struck out nine times against Snell. Then Barnes put his bat on a 1-and-1 curveball, as fundamental and controlled an approach as you could have, and served a single into center field.
Somehow Cash spotted wooziness in Snell that no one else could. He brought in Nick Anderson, who throws hard and, in October, has been hit harder, giving up 15 hits in 11⅔ innings. Snell was furious. The rest of baseball was just incredulous. Almost instantly the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead. Fortunately, Cash is not a boxing referee.
“I was shocked,” Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger said, laughing. “We were joking around about how we were going to get him out of there. And he rallied from there.”
In 1964 the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson was stumbling to the finish line in a Game 7 against the Yankees. Manager Johnny Keane let him win and then said, “I had a commitment to his heart.” Cash, or whomever is pulling the strings, had a commitment to a spreadsheet. And now even more fans yearn to return to a game that is felt instead of measured.
Did you dream that Wood would bully the Rays for two perfect innings and strike out three of the six he faced? Did you think Gonzalez would retire Austin Meadows with a man on first and then strike out the side in the sixth? Did you forget how Barnes could snatch strikes behind the plate, and bunt, and lead all those Dodger pitchers through the wilderness?
Without them, a Game 7 looms Wednesday night, and maybe a 33-year drought.
Even Tony Gonsolin, the cameo starter who gave up a first-inning run to Babe Arozarena, pitched out of a one-out, two-on situation. After that, the Rays had three hits and one runner in scoring position.
The Dodgers are known as a hulking conglomerate that buys up and keeps its talent and follows the advice of its squadron of analysts. That is only partly true.
They have cleaned out the mood swings from their clubhouse. They have built stability and commonality through all the empty finishes. Would they have done this with Bryce Harper or Gerrit Cole? Maybe, but Betts’ personality and virtuosity exactly fits their next phase.
They are a place where Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor can feel as valued as the All-Stars. And in this postseason, they basically just played their game and let Atlanta and Tampa Bay drop the cake.
We’ll discuss the asterisks later. For now, the Dodgers are 2020 world champions because, like the Family Stone, everybody is a star.