‘The glue’ of the Dodgers, Justin Turner yearns to win a World Series title
As much as he hates to think or talk about it, Justin Turner’s baseball mortality is staring him right in the ginger-beard-covered face.
The Dodgers third baseman beloved by fans turns 36 in November, and the four-year, $64-million contract he signed before 2017 expires in a few weeks.
Turner will open his seventh consecutive postseason with the Dodgers Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers with a potentially balky hamstring, a warming bat and no guarantee he will return to Los Angeles in 2021. This could be his final October to help the Dodgers end their 31-year championship drought.
“I think it’s the same urgency as every season,” Turner said before Tuesday’s workout in Dodger Stadium. “When we show up to Arizona in spring training, the goal is to win a World Series, and nothing has changed this season. We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience who are all just as hungry, just as eager as I am.
“I learned a lot from [the late renowned sports psychologist] Ken Ravizza about being present, and one of the things that kind of destroys that focus is looking ahead to the future. So I try not to do that. I try to worry about today, and when tomorrow comes, we’ll worry about tomorrow.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is criticized on social media for his decisions, but he deals with the vitriol with a smile and an abundance of optimism.
Turner, who grew up in Long Beach and played at Cal State Fullerton, was a struggling utility player for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets for five seasons (2009-2013) before signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers.
He blossomed into a star in Los Angeles, his flowing red hair and bushy beard, consistent production at the plate and charitable work in the community making him a fan favorite.
Turner has hit .302 with an .886 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 116 homers and 406 RBIs in seven seasons for the Dodgers, who have won eight National League West titles in a row.
He’s been even better in the postseason, batting .310 with a .931 OPS, nine homers and 35 RBIs in 54 playoff games, including a seven-game World Series loss to Houston in 2017 and a five-game World Series loss to Boston in 2018.
Turner said playing in travel ball tournaments, the Mickey Mantle World Series, the Connie Mack World Series and the College World Series helped hone his ability to thrive under pressure.
But he credited Ravizza, the former Cal State Fullerton professor who worked with several big league teams before dying at age 70 in 2018, for laying much of the groundwork for his playoff success.
“I worked with him for many years and took a couple of his classes, and he talked about the mental side of baseball and life,” Turner said. “He was huge for my career in being present, in being able to let go of the bad stuff and move on to the next pitch.”
Two of Turner’s biggest October moments came in 2017, when he hit a walk-off three-run homer in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, and 2018, when he hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning of a 4-2 win over the Brewers in Game 2 of the NLCS.
“He’s the glue for our club,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after the 2018 homer against Milwaukee. “If you’re talking about the grind, the tough conversations, the identity of our ballclub, he’s probably the face. He personifies everything that I believe in as a baseball player.”
The face-of-the-franchise transition from Turner to right fielder Mookie Betts, who signed a 12-year, $365-million contract extension in July, is underway, but Turner is still a middle-of-the-order force despite a slight power outage in 2020, when he hit .307 with an .860 OPS, four homers and 23 RBIs in 42 games.
The Dodgers are huge favorites against the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild card round, but reliever Devin Williams could give L.A. fits with his filthy changeup.
Turner missed the first two weeks of September because of a left hamstring strain, an injury he suffered against Texas on Aug. 28 and was located in the same area he was hit by a Kyle Freeland pitch against Colorado on Aug. 22. Turner returned Sept. 15 and made five starts at designated hitter and the next five at third base.
“I probably recovered faster from the tweak than the bruising in the back of the hamstring,” Turner said. “It was one of the better bruises I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot of them. [The swelling] went from the back of the hamstring to the knee and then the calf.”
Turner’s bat seems fine. He hit .394 with a 1.096 OPS in his last 10 games and hit two homers against the Angels on Friday night. He said the hamstring “feels great,” and he will probably bat third, behind Betts and Corey Seager, against Milwaukee.
“I was trying not to push it to the point where I would reinjure it,” Turner said. “I wanted to take steps forward every day, and I feel like I’m in a good place right now.”
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