Tommy Lasorda led the Dodgers to pennants his first two years at the helm, in 1977 and 1978, only to lose in the World Series both times, courtesy of the New York Yankees. His team lost a heartbreaking one-game playoff for the division to the Houston Astros in 1980. In his fifth season in Los Angeles, with the core group of players who'd been beside him through the journey, the Hall of Fame manager cleared the final hurdle, beating the Bronx Bombers in the six-game 1981 World Series.
I don’t think I’m going too far with the comparison. Dave Roberts felt the disappointment of World Series losses in 2017 and 2018 and was bounced in the first round last year. Tuesday night, in his fifth October as L.A.’s skipper, with mostly the same group of guys who fondly call him Doc, Mr. Roberts finally won that elusive World Series championship. In six games.
After 32 years as a fan waiting to experience it and 21 as a writer covering the team, I’m going to type the words now: The Los Angeles Dodgers are World Series Champions. Wait till next year, my foot! Or, cleat. Bums, schmums!
The Dodgers were baseball's best team all year long, as evidenced by their 43-17 regular-season record. They swept their way through the first two rounds of the postseason, came storming back from a three-games-to-one deficit to defeat the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series and finished off the Tampa Bay Rays in six games Tuesday night. Deep in the heart of Texas.
For posterity, L.A. won Game 1 of the 2020 Fall Classic 8-3; Clayton Kershaw the winner (3-1), Tyler Glasnow the loser (2-2). The Rays won Game 2 by the score of 6-4; Nick Anderson the winner (1-1), Tony Gonsolin the loser (0-2), with Diego Castillo recording the save (1). Los Angeles over Tampa Bay 6-2 in Game 3; Walker Buehler the winner (2-0); Charlie Morton the loser (3-1). The Rays beat the Dodgers 8-7 in Game 4; John Curtiss the winner (1-0), Kenley Jansen the loser (0-1). L.A. 4, Tampa Bay 2 in Game 5; Clayton Kershaw the winner (4-1), Tyler Glasnow the loser (2-3), Blake Treinen the save (1). And Dodgers 3, Rays 1 in the deciding sixth game; Victor Gonzalez the winner (1-0), Nick Anderson the loser (1-2) and Julio Urias the 2 1/3 inning save (1).
In 137 seasons going all the way back to the 1884 Brooklyn Atlantics, the franchise has its seventh championship. Here is the complete list: 1955. 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, 1988 and at long last, 2020. Thirty-two years is an incomprehensible amount of time between World Series championships -- sorry Cleveland, Baltimore, et al -- but the time seems to have melted away with last night's victory, don’t you think?
My beautiful wife Beth (a.k.a. The Main Squeeze), who sat through all of it with me, including the 2 1/2 hour postgame show on SportsNet LA last night, turned to me a little after midnight and asked, “what do you think made the difference this time?” Out of the mouths of babes, right?
As if responding in a game of word association, the first syllables that came to me were these three: Mookie Betts. There isn’t enough column inch space on the website to cover all of what the former American League (and possible 2020 National League) MVP meant to his club, but may I direct you to the seventh and eighth innings of Tuesday night’s clincher below for starters?
Next I point to difference maker Clayton Kershaw, winner of two games in this World Series, achiever of a 4-1 postseason record during the 2020 postseason, with a 2.93 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, seven walks and 37 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings. The soon-to-be-proud-possessor of a beautiful piece of fine jewelry, Clayton Kershaw. That Clayton Kershaw, whose past October failings are a distant memory. But diamonds are forever.
While Corey Seager may have been on the field during the postseason disappointments of 2015, 2016 and 2017, he was never quite the player a fair number of people in the baseball industry thought he could be. Because of October. After sitting out most of the 2018 season following two surgeries, after rebuilding his strength in an encouraging comeback season last year, the Dodgers' shortstop put it all together in 2020. And there would be no championship to reflect upon this afternoon without him. A candidate for the MVP award Seager hit .307/.358/.585 with 17 home runs and 37 RBIs during the 60-game regular season, .310/.333/.897 with five homers and 11 RBIs in the NLCS and .400/.556/.700, with 2 HR and 5 RBIs in the Fall Classic. He won MVP trophies for his performance in the final two rounds.
We can't have a conversation about difference makers without a shoutout to Dave Roberts, who takes the heat for everything that has gone wrong in past campaigns (not to mention in this October), when losing; like winning, is a collaborative effort. Yes, Roberts does some weird things, which have been detailed the world over ad infinitum. But he was expert in his managing of Games 5 and 6 of the Series, he is a great champion and deserves all the credit in the world.
I can't give you the specific things each of Roberts' coaches did to make a difference in 2020, but I can assure you those items exist. Congratulations to Bob Geren, Brant Brown, Robert Van Scoyoc, Mark Prior, George Lombard, Dino Ebel, Josh Bard, Aaron Bates, Connor McGuiness, Danny Lehmann and Steve Cilladli. I hope to hear from all of them in the future.
It's important to cite President and CEO Stan Kasten, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman (ya think?), Friedman's vice presidents Josh Byrnes, Brandon Games, Jeffery Kingston, David Finley, Ismael Cruz, Galen Carr, along with senior directors Billy Gasparino and Ellen Harrigan, the latter eight of whom should be credited more than they are generally.
I prefer not to rank the people mentioned here and I'm not going to. But what a difference maker Julio Urias was this fall. On the mound for the final out of both the pennant and title clinchings, Urias was next to unhittable. And inspiring. In a start and a dramatic closing stint in this World Series, the now 24-year-old left-hander tossed seven innings, allowed two earned runs, with a 2.57 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP, a single free pass and 13 strikeouts. Urias pitched 23 frames in the postseason, recording a 1.17 ERA, a 0.65 WHIP, with four walks and 29 strikeouts.
All 28 men on the World Series roster contributed something in the year 2020, if not in the final six games than somewhere along the line. The same is true for the additional 10 players who appeared in a game this year.
I don't care if it sounds cliché; the Dodgers won the World Series because 2020 was their year. As in 1984 with Detroit, in 2016 with the Cubs and in a number of years with the Yankees, there was a feeling around baseball from start to finish that Los Angeles had the pieces, the motivation and the ability to rise to the occasion at just the right time. This time. This year.
The Dodgers won the World Series because of experience, including the experience of coming so close a number of times only to fall a game or three short. Just like Lasorda’s teams 40-some years ago. Like Tommy, Dave Roberts is a leader of men, and the proud manager of the 2020 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. As a lifelong fan of this particular team, I thank him.
I miss baseball. And remember, glove conquers all.
Howard Cole has been writing about baseball on the internet since Y2K. Follow him on Twitter.
Video courtesy of Spectrum SportsNetLA/Los Angeles Dodgers.