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 watch the Dodgers win a World Series?
They finally sealed the deal, 3-1 in Game 6 on neutral ground that wasn’t so neutral, the home of the Texas Rangers that 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 this 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.
“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 crowd roared.
Given all of what baseball, not just the Dodgers, had gone through to get to this point, that may have been understating things.
The turning point Tuesday was getting Snell out of the game, after he’d 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.
After Austin Barnes hit a slider into center for a single, he was gone. Soon, so was the lead. And if Dodger fans hadn’t seen this so closely and so agonizingly over the years, they might have sympathized. This time? No way.
Maybe it was fitting that Mookie 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 said it all. Maybe this was the bonus that L.A. got when Andrew 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.
What it was, instead, was a team on a mission from day one, maybe from 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 mission.
They were the best team in the regular season. And at the end they were not only the best team of the eight 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