The Los Angeles Dodgers are the 2020 World Series champions, their first since 1988. And they earned it because they were the best team in baseball throughout the pandemic-shortened season.
They won with clutchhitting, dominating pitching — both starters and bullpenners -- nearly flawless defense and bold baserunning.
But on Tuesday night in Game 6, the Dodgers received a monumental assist from Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, a decision that will be cussed and discussed during a long winter for the Rays.
The Dodgers won, 3-1, after Cash made what turned out to be a decision that will cause him to catch a long winter of flak in central Florida.
His starter, Blake Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young winner, his best pitcher, had the Dodgers nibbling crumbs from his left hand.
It was total domination. But Cash took him out. Took him out when he had struck out nine in 5 1/3 innings. Took him out when he had given up two lonely singles. Took him out with a 1-0 lead.
The second hit came with one out in the sixth when Tampa Bay led, 1-0. And Cash unceremoniously removed the left-handed Snell.
He brought in Nick Anderson, who had given up runs in six straight playoff games. He brought in right-handed Nick Anderson to face right-handed Mookie Betts, who had a .218 slugging average against left handers.
And Snell had struck out Betts the first two times on this night. But against Andereson, Betts doubled and before the inning was over the Dodgers had two runs and a 2-1 lead.
In his defense, it was the way Cash managed all season, seldom permitting a starting pitcher to traverse more than two times through a batting order. Snell had not pitched a full six innings since July of 2019.
Said Betts, who also homered in the ninth for the third Dodgers run, about the removal of Snell, “I’m not really sure and I’m not going to ask any questions about it. He was pitching a great game and Barnes got that hit. We had a chance to do something and they made that change. That’s all we needed.”
Betts, who also hit a home run for the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series, signed a 12-year deal with the Dodgers before this season.
“I know these guys have been in the postseason so many times (without winning it all), I’m just glad to be part of it, happy to contribute,” said Betts.
On the other side, LA manager Dave Roberts was forced to make it a Bullpen Night and he used seven pitchers to cover the road to a World Series ring.
Tony Gonsolin, Dylan Floro, Alex Wood, Pedro Baez, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol and Julio Urias held the Rays to one run, five hits, two walks and 16 strikeouts. Urias retired the final seven in order, four on strikeouts.
Mr. All-Universe, Cuban-born rookie Randy Arozarena, the second hitter of the game, gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead in the first with an opposite-field home run that crash landed on a tarp in the right field stands.
It extended his postseason records — 10 home runs, 28 hits. But it was Tampa Bay’s first and last hurrah.
The analytics-driven Rays featured baseball’s True Outcome all season — home runs, strikeouts, walks. And they hit on two of them, a home run (one for their only run) and strikeouts (16).
Snell guarded that one-run lead as if Tampa Bay’s baseball life depended on it. . .and it did. But he was not permitted to finish the dynamic work he started.
He struck out the side in the first. He struck out four of the first five. He struck out the side in the fourth.
Through four innings, the Dodgers had one baserunner, a leadoff single by Chris Taylor in the third, but Snell had struck out nine. And he used up only 55 pitches to get that far.
The Dodgers started Gonsolin, followed by a parade of relief pitchers that wore a path from the bullpen to the mound.
Two former Cincinnati Reds pitchers followed Gonsolin with perfect appearances. Floro arrived with two on and two outs in the second. He struck out Arozorena on three pitches.
Wood, who spent most of 2019 on the Reds injury list, followed Floro with two perfect innings and struck out three.
Snell gave up a one-out single to No. 9 hitter Austin Barnes in the sixth. . .and that was it. He had given up two singles, struck out nine and threw 73 pitches. But Cash went to his bullpen and brought in Anderson.
The next three batters were the top three in the LA order and Snell had struck out all of them twice, six up, six down via strikeouts.
As Snell fumed in the dugout, Betts quickly doubled to left, putting runners on third and second with one out.
With first base open, Cash chose to pitch to left hander Corey Seager and Anderson threw a wild pitch, Barnes scored, 1-1. Seager grounded to first and Betts beat the throw home and it was 2-1 for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers added a huge insurance run in the eighth when Betts cleared the left center wall with a dagger-digging home run to make it 3-1.
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