This is the Dodgers’ moment.
On a field deep in the heart of Texas, in a stadium that has become their home away from their real home in Chavez Ravine, with about 11,000 fans in the stands but thousands more hearts beating in rhythm with theirs in Los Angeles, the Dodgers can become World Series champions Tuesday for the first time in too long.
A victory in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Rays will bring a championship to a generation that has grown up hearing about Kirk Gibson’s incredible home run, Orel Hershiser’s pitching feats and Tom Lasorda’s influence on the improbable 1988 title team but hasn’t had its own stories to add and cherish and tell over and over. Each generation deserves to experience a wonderful and wild ride that ends in October triumph, to take a journey that makes fans fall in love with baseball for the first time or to fall in love all over again. This Dodgers team has a chance to give them that precious gift Tuesday or in Game 7 on Wednesday.
“We've heard it a lot and we've seen a lot of highlights and it's fantastic, but I think that we want to make our own mark on Dodgers history,” manager Dave Roberts said. “The thing about that is, Tommy, Gibby, Orel, those guys are all rooting like crazy for us in 2020. So, yeah, I think it's fantastic. But I do think that we're really focused on trying to make our own mark.”
One win Tuesday, or in Game 7 Wednesday behind Walker Buehler, will mean that the familiar stories about Tommy, Gibby and Orel will make room for new stories about Roberts — some of them uncomplimentary when it comes to puzzling pitching changes — as well as tales of Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Mookie Betts, and of stalwart Clayton Kershaw finally earning the championship that has remained so agonizingly beyond his reach.
This opportunity is awaiting them. It’s theirs to pull Tuesday from the insistent grasp of the tenacious Rays, who will start left-hander Blake Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner, against Dodgers rookie righthander Tony Gonsolin.
“He's a really good competitor with top-end stuff so we're gonna have our hands full. But I like our guy,” Roberts said during a video interview session. “And I think it's gonna be a close game. The team that gets the big hit, makes the big play is going to win.”
Tampa Bay has faced elimination before during these playoffs, once in the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees and again in the AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros. Their resilience and deep bullpen have been two of their greatest strengths, but the Dodgers have posed a tougher challenge than the Rays have seen. The Dodgers’ relentless offense has prevented the Rays from being the Rays, in essence, a problem that manager Kevin Cash has yet to solve.
“It’s been challenging, really challenging," Cash said. "We’re gonna get aggressive if we can somehow get a lead and limit them. We have some of the big guys in the back of the bullpen that are ready to go. That’s our MO.
“I think that’s what makes us special at times, especially from the pitching department, continuing to give different looks. Consistently being inconsistent with the looks we’re giving opposing lineups, and more than anything with this Dodgers lineup, just to not allow them to see repeated at-bats in times through the order. It just hasn’t happened yet, because they’re up one, two, three to nothing by the second or third inning every night, it feels like. ... Our strategy is to get a lead and get aggressive to where we feel we can limit whatever offense is out there.”
They haven’t limited Seager, who’s batting .471 in the World Series with two home runs, four runs batted in and a team-leading seven runs scored. They also haven’t limited Turner, who’s batting .364 with two home runs and four doubles.
But with left-hander Snell starting, the resurgent bat of left-handed hitter Joc Pederson (.400 in 10 at-bats) will come out of the lineup, placing more of the offensive burden on Betts. Betts has largely been held in check except for the home run he hit in Game 2 off left-handed reliever Josh Fleming, Betts’ first home run off a lefty as a Dodger, and a leadoff double in the Dodgers' 4-2 victory Sunday in Game 5.
Betts’ struggles against left-handers is well known: During the abbreviated regular season he batted .200 against lefties and .323 against righties. In the World Series, he has been spectacular defensively but is batting only .227 (five for 22). He batted .429 in the wild-card series against Milwaukee, .333 against San Diego in the NLDS and .269 against Atlanta in the NLCS. Contributions from him Tuesday could go a long way toward avoiding a Game 7 and to cementing his place in Dodgers history.
Roberts took a long-term perspective when he was asked about the team’s acquisition of Betts last February. “We got a steal. I'm just so grateful that the deal was done,” Roberts said. “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. It's going to affect players that haven't even been drafted by the Dodgers yet. That's what I'm really excited about as well.”
If all goes as it should Tuesday or Wednesday, those future Dodgers will know all about the Dodgers' 2020 World Series championship. It will be part of their memories, the touchstone for a generation that has longed for that prize for too many years.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.