The last time the Dodgers won the World Series, it was the play before the play. Kirk Gibson was at the plate. Mike Davis, representing the tying run, stole second base.
“Now the Dodgers don’t need the muscle of Gibson,” Vin Scully said on national television, “as much as a base hit.”
A single would have tied the score, but Gibson muscled up anyway, with his legendary walk-off home run. But that was 1988, and this is 2020, when risk management in the front office has robbed baseball of some of its joy and artistry. Do not risk running into an out, do not try to steal, hit dingers.
That was what made Game 1 of the World Series so much fun, at least for Dodgers fans. The Dodgers hit dingers, sure, but the inning in which the team blew open the game was set up by — be still my heart — three stolen bases.
Mookie Betts stole two of them. He became the second player in World Series history with two stolen bases and a walk in the same inning. The other: Babe Ruth, 99 years ago.
(Betts and Ruth also represent the answer to an instant trivia question: What are the two most daft moves in the history of the Boston Red Sox?)
In the right moment, a stolen base can live forever. No one knows that better than Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, for whom the most memorable moment of his career was a stolen base for the Red Sox in the 2004 playoffs. The base itself is anchored, and Roberts is immortalized, in a video in Fenway Park.
And, if the Dodgers do win their first World Series since 1988, the story of Betts’ thefts will live on in Dodgers lore.
Betts led off the top of the fifth with a walk. He stole second base, putting himself in scoring position and taking away the chance for the Rays to turn a double play. And then, after Corey Seager walked, Betts led a double steal.
“We can’t let them just double-steal there,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
That again took away the chance for the Rays to turn a double play. That also put Betts into position to score from third base, which he did on a ground ball to the first baseman. By the time the inning was over, the Dodgers led by five runs, and they could start counting down the outs toward what would be an 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the World Series.
In 2020, stolen bases are not supposed to be a thing.
“Stolen bases are a thing for me,” Betts said. “That’s how I create runs. That’s how I cause a little havoc on the bases. So I take pride in stealing bases. And once I get on the basepaths, I’m just trying to touch home, and however I get there is how I get there.”
Betts leads all players this postseason with four stolen bases. In the 60-game regular season, he stole 10 bases, tied for fifth in the National League.
There are the stats, and then there is the havoc: forcing the pitcher to speed his delivery, and to divide his attention between the batter and the runner. This is truer today than at any time in recent decades, because pitchers so rarely have to deal with the threat of a stolen base.
“That’s definitely the weak part of my game,” Rays starter Tyler Glasnow said, “holding runners.”
The offenses based on three true outcomes — walk, strikeout, home run — can lull fans to sleep, and maybe pitchers too.
“To create tension,” Roberts said, “I think that’s a good thing.”
In Game 1 of this year’s World Series, the Dodgers stole three bases in one inning. Roberts said the Dodgers were not necessarily averse to running in previous editions of the World Series, since Bellinger and Chris Taylor can run.
However, in the 12 combined games of the 2017 and 2018 World Series, the Dodgers stole one base.
“Certainly, a guy who is an elite base-stealer like Mookie makes that stolen base aspect a much bigger part of our offense,” Roberts said.
Betts does it all for the Dodgers and their fans, including free food. His first stolen base, the first of the World Series, won a free taco for all of America at Taco Bell.
The standard price for a taco at Taco Bell is $1.19. The population of the United States is about 328 million, so the retail cost of a taco for all of America would be $390 million.
Betts could afford that. The Dodgers are paying him $392 million, and he appears to be worth every penny.
Steal a base, steal a taco, steal a World Series championship.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.