Column: Here’s why the Dodgers will win the World Series for first time in 32 years
The video of Kirk Gibson’s home run will never be retired, but the frequently played highlight is close to losing its place as the most recent reminder of the franchise’s winning tradition.
The chokers are about to become champions.
Sometime over the next nine days, the Dodgers will defeat the Tampa Bay Rays and win the World Series.
Starting with Game 1 on Tuesday night, a new group of October legends will emerge.
Multiple generations of Angelenos will experience their first title. They will celebrate in their homes and apartments, not in Dodger Stadium, their neighborhood bar or anywhere else where they could exchange high-fives with strangers. But whatever. They know only disappointment. They will take it.
“This year is our year!” manager Dave Roberts declared Sunday night after the Dodgers secured their passage to the World Series, which will be played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
Roberts’ proclamation was a rare promise made in the most dogmatic and superstitious of sports, but how could the manager not believe that after guiding his team to a comeback in the National League Championship Series?
Nothing about the 2020 season was normal, yet the two best teams in baseball are meeting in the World Series — the Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays.
To reach their third World Series in four years, the Dodgers had to reverse a three-games-to-one deficit against the Atlanta Braves.
But Roberts’ faith in his team is based on more than its wins in three consecutive elimination games. How the Dodgers won was equally, if not more, important.
This team isn’t like its recent predecessors. There’s a dependability about these Dodgers that was absent in previous years, when it felt like a matter of time before they betrayed the hopes of their hometown.
When critical plays must be made, they make them. Not in any of their previous seven postseasons, not when they reached World Series in 2017 or returned in 2018, did the Dodgers make as many momentum-shifting defensive plays as they have in these playoffs.
By now, Times photographer Robert Gauthier has captured enough of these moments to open a Dodgers-themed exhibit.
There was center fielder Cody Bellinger sprinting back nearly 100 feet before reaching over the center-field wall to steal a potential go-ahead home run from Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres in their NL Division Series.
Right fielder Mookie Betts made a similar over-the-wall grab in Game 7 of the NLCS — after making a spectacular back-to the-wall catch in Game 6 and a balletic shoestring snag in Game 5.
Game 7 of the NLCS also featured a play by third baseman Justin Turner that represented the combination of the team’s athleticism and know-how.
The Dodgers trailed 3-2 in the fourth inning when the Braves had runners on second and third with no outs. Turner fielded a grounder by Nick Markakis and threw home without hesitation. Dansby Swanson, who ran on contact, was caught in a rundown. Turner launched himself horizontally into the air down the line to tag Swanson on the back, then quickly threw to shortstop Corey Seager, who was covering third. Seager tagged out Austin Riley, who was trying to advance from second to third.
“It’s not always on the offensive side that you get that spark,” Seager said.
There’s something else.
These Dodgers recognize opportunity. They seize a moment. Crack open the door for them and they find a way through.
A four-hit performance in Game 1 of the NLCS raised concerns they were reverting to their traditional lackluster postseason form, but their offense never entirely disappeared. With the addition of Betts and the resurgence of Seager, the Dodgers can now adequately support Turner, the team’s modern-day Mr. October.
The strength of the top of the order has reduced the burden on other players. The home run that decided the NLCS was launched by No. 6 hitter Bellinger, who has an NL MVP award but an underwhelming playoff history.
The bullpen continues to be of concern, so much so that the Dodgers used one of their starters as an opener in the final game of the NLCS and another as a closer.
Unlike the earlier rounds, the World Series will have days off — after the second and fifth games as if teams needed a travel day. Roberts managed his flawed bullpen wisely in the NLCS. The schedule will allow him to turn to his preferred options more frequently.
There’s also the opposition to consider.
If Game 7 of the NLCS was any indication, the World Series will have a frenetic environment of its own kind, a setting as unique as this reimagined season.
When the Dodgers went into the 2017 World Series, they went against a Houston Astros lineup that looked unstoppable — in retrospect, it made sense the Astros were illegally stealing signs.
Their rivals in the 2018 World Series were the superior Boston Red Sox, against whom they had no chance.
The Rays are solid, but they’re basically a less-expensive version of the Dodgers. The two teams share principles. They pitch and field well. But the Rays lack the star power of the Dodgers. They don’t have a player like Betts. They don’t have their own version of Seager.
The Dodgers can win the series. They should win the series.
And when they do, some of the players will earn places in the history not only of their franchise but of this city, alongside the likes of Gibson and Orel Hershiser, Pedro Guerrero and Ron Cey, Sandy Koufax and Larry Sherry.
Hernández reported from Los Angeles.
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