Eric Gay/Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Tex. — Blue Heaven officially descended on Los Angeles at 10:37 p.m. Central Time when Julio Urias, the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ seventh pitcher of the evening, blew a 96.7 mph fastball past a gawking Willy Adames, snapping a 32-year World Series drought in their first year AM—After Mookie.
In a stunning, sad, yet fitting ending to a season like no other, Justin Turner, the heartbeat of the Dodgers, was pulled in the eighth inning of the 3-1 Game 6 clincher after a positive test for COVID-19. An uproar then erupted afterward when Turner nevertheless joined his teammates for the on-field celebration and was shown on television removing his mask.
It was a chaotic and unpredictable ending to a season that once appeared as if it might never happen, and for a team that was still raw from losing the 2017 World Series to the cheating Houston Astros.
The Dodgers tumbled onto the field in a swirl of blue at the end, screaming, waving, hooting, hollering, and good for them. No longer do Turner, Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger and the rest have to hear all about Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and their 1988 underdog predecessors. They did it themselves. They are the champions, and in years to come, it will be Kershaw returning to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. If there is any justice in this pandemic-scarred world, following that pitch, Kershaw will then nestle into a Dodger Stadium seat in retirement right next to his good friend Sandy Koufax.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts found Kershaw on the field during the celebration and hugged him tight. When the embrace ended, he firmly gripped Kershaw’s shoulders, looked him in the eye and exclaimed, “I’m so happy for you, man!”
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
As for Turner, who fought for this moment since coming to the Dodgers as a free agent before the 2014 season, there will be a lasting sting that he was unable to be on the field at the moment of victory.
“To have that happen to a guy like that, a guy who reinvented himself when he came here, what he’s meant to the organization, to the franchise, to the community, it’s gut-wrenching,” said shortstop Corey Seager, the World Series MVP. “If I could switch places with him, I would.
“… I heard them talking about the move [in the dugout after the seventh inning] and, even in the moment, it’s gut-wrenching. You don’t know what to do. I’ve played a lot of innings with that man beside me. To not have him there, it hurts. It hurts a lot.”
Outrage quickly ricocheted around the country when Turner later joined the postgame celebration and was clearly visible not wearing a mask—and others were maskless around him—and wasn’t social distancing.
“I haven’t seen the pictures. I totally understand the question,” Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, said. “If people around him were without masks, that’s not good optics at all.”
Late Tuesday night, the newly minted world champions were planning to return to their Texas hotel and undergo more COVID-19 testing before they determined their next move. Depending on whether any positives came back, and how many, they were either going to fly home to Los Angeles or go into quarantine in Texas.
Friedman said he learned about the positive test in the seventh inning, and that once Turner was removed from the game, he was quarantined in a doctor’s office off to the side of the clubhouse.
“He wanted to come out and take a picture with the trophy,” Friedman said. “I can’t state strongly enough how big of a role he played in the success of this organization, and with him being a free agent, not knowing how that will play out, I don’t think there was anyone who was going to stop him from coming out.”
We knew this season was going to be different, and was it ever. This night nearly wasn’t even big enough to contain an ending.
Before the Dodgers went into postgame quarantine, the biggest storyline was Tampa Bay prematurely pulling a dealing Blake Snell in one of the worst decisions in the history of the World Series.
Not that the Dodgers were thrilled to see Snell’s departure, but they practically started their celebration in the top of the sixth when they were still trailing 1-0.
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Instead of bringing a champagne bottle to the plate along with his bat right then and there, as he well should have, Mookie Betts simply looked over at manager Dave Roberts and gave him a knowing smile.
“Man, it was kind of like a sigh of relief,” Betts said of Snell’s exit. “Had he stayed in the game, he may have pitched a complete game. I don’t know exactly what would have happened, but he was rolling. He was pitching really, really well. That was the Cy Young Snell tonight. Once he came out of the game, it was a breath of fresh air.”
Betts, Turner and Seager not only had gone 0-for-6 against Snell to that point, but all six at-bats were strikeouts. They couldn’t touch him.
But the Rays subscribe to the Gospel of Don’t Trust Starting Pitchers A Third Time Through the Batting Order. Instead of trusting his eyes, manager Kevin Cash went with the numbers. It’s how the Rays operate, and it got them to the World Series.
This time, it was a horrendous mistake. Betts immediately ripped a double on reliever Nick Anderson’s third pitch, and by inning’s end, the Dodgers had seized a 2-1 lead. Betts tacked on a solo homer in the eighth and it was all over but the genuflecting.
“The only motive was that the lineup the Dodgers feature is as potent as any in the league,” Cash said. “Personally, I felt Blake had done his job and then some. Mookie coming around the third time, I totally value and respect the questions that come with it.”
Snell would have all winter to rest. There would be no more starts until next year. Yet, gone.
Everything about the Dodgers changed in an instant. Their body language snapped to attention, they dug in more, they took far more confident swings.
“I was pretty happy because he was dominating us and we just weren’t seeing him,” Roberts said.
“He threw one hell of a ballgame,” Seager said. “He had us off-balance.
“Once he came out, it uplifted us a little bit, for sure.”
Friedman chuckled at the question, explained that Tampa Bay was just doing what Tampa Bay does but then conceded, “From our standpoint, I think our hitters got a real jolt by that.”
Understand: None of this diminishes the Dodgers’ accomplishment. Crown them, and plan the parade. They are the best team this year, clearly. They ran the table, powered through the expanded playoffs, raced over more obstacles than maybe any team ever has given the wrenching difficulties in 2020, the Year of the Pandemic.
It’s just that, as baseball and the world evolved, this has become a much different game. Unrecognizable to some.
In fact, the Dodgers’ seven pitchers were the most used in a clinching game (nine innings) in the history of the World Series.
Kershaw was in the bullpen for the final out and slowly trotted in to join the celebration, looking around the stadium the whole time, trying to soak as much of it in as he could. It was a beautiful moment.
“I’ve been saying ‘World Series champs’ in my head over and over again just to see if it will sink in,” Kershaw said. “No, I can’t put it into words yet. I’m just so very thankful to be with this group of guys, so very thankful we get to be on the team bringing the World Series trophy back to Dodgers fans after 32 years.
“You can’t ask anything more, it’s incredible.”
Eric Gay/Associated Press
Their season started in February, before the coronavirus pandemic upended life as we knew it. On the night before their first full-squad workout, Betts contacted Roberts and asked whether he would mind if he addressed the team. Roberts surely didn’t mind, but he pointed Betts toward Kershaw and suggested checking with him.
Kershaw signed off on it, and the next morning, Betts gave an impassioned talk about doing the little things right and keeping a World Series title in focus every single day. It opened a lot of guys’ eyes, especially veteran pitcher David Price, who had come over from Boston in the Betts deal and had not seen the take-charge side of Betts yet.
Then spring training was suspended in March, Price became one of the players opting out of the season, and when everything came back together mid-summer, Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million deal and played like the MVP that he is.
“We got a steal,” Roberts said this week of the trade with Boston. “And I’m just so grateful that the deal was done because it’s not only helping us this year, it’s going to help us for the next wave of young players and really enhance what we have as a culture going forward.
“And it’s going to affect players that haven’t been drafted by the Dodgers yet.”
Eric Gay/Associated Press
Said Kershaw: “Mookie’s unbelievable. He’s an incredible baseball player. He does everything so well. He strives to be perfect, strives to be excellent every single time out there. That focus, that consistency, I don’t know how much better it made other guys in this clubhouse, but I know it did. I know it did some.”
Roberts has said this particular Dodgers team is “as close a group as any team I’ve been around, and the [postseason] bubble circumstances aided that.”
Life this month in the bubble became one enormous loop of days at the hotel, bus rides to the stadium, postseason games, return to the hotel, rinse and repeat. Little rituals either became ultra-boring or something to anticipate. Roberts talked about how each morning in the hotel, his breakfast consisted of a bowl of oatmeal, brown sugar, 2 percent milk and some berries, along with three eggs over medium, a side of bacon and a cup of coffee.
“I look forward to it every morning,” he said.
Through the month in Texas, the Dodgers devoured the Padres, Braves and, finally, the Rays. They went 43-17 during the regular season, won their eighth consecutive NL West title and played in their third World Series in four years.
And this time, finally, they authored a different, storybook ending.
Under Roberts since 2016, the Dodgers have produced MLB‘s best record at 436-273 (.615). In 60 games this season, he used 55 different lineups while winning at a .717 clip.
Since Friedman became president of baseball operations, the Dodgers have gone 528-343 (.606). In 2019, they won a franchise-record 106 games.
But until now, they were wearing out the 1988 video clips in Dodger Stadium. Kirk Gibson this, Orel Hershiser that.
As Kershaw repeated that magical phrase in his head—“World Series champs! World Series champs!”—finally, he could be content. For the first time in his life with the Dodgers, finally, he was king of the hill.
“I was trying to take it all in the best I could,” he said. “You can never really script what you’re going to do, how you’re going to feel, but it’s a content feeling, just like the job is done. We did it. We ran our race, we completed our mission.”
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter to talk baseball.