By BILL PLUNKETT | Orange County Register
ARLINGTON, Texas — In a year that has been so improbable – for all of us – the possible finally happened.
Benefiting from a reverse Grady Little, the Dodgers rode a two-run burst in the sixth inning and an impeccable bullpen performance to a 3-1 victory in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field.
The franchise that once made “Wait ’til next year” its unfortunate slogan for years has nothing more to wait for now. Tuesday’s win came on the 16th anniversary of the Boston Red Sox ending their 86-year wait for a World Series title and ended a 32-year drought for the Dodgers that had them searching for their own curse to explain the annual disappointment.
“I’ve been saying World Series champs over and over again in my head just to see if it will sink in. So, no, I can’t put it in words yet,” said pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who charged in from the bullpen after the final out with the facial expression of a young “kiddo” on Christmas morning.
“I’m just so very grateful to be part of the team that is bringing back a World Series to Dodger fans after 32 years. They’ve waited a long time. To be on the team that did that in L.A. – you couldn’t ask for anything more incredible.”
In the last year of the Red Sox’s drought, Little was run out of Boston after leaving Pedro Martinez in too long in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. The rabid talk radio audience in … St. Petersburg, Fla., is not likely to run Rays manager Kevin Cash out of town. But his strict adherence to analytics produced might have cost the Rays a chance to extend this series to a winner-take-all Game 7.
The American League Cy Young Award winner in 2018 when he went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA, Snell was that guy again Tuesday night with his team facing elimination.
Snell struck out the side in the first inning, retiring Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner on 12 pitches.
Through two innings, the only ball put in play was a checked-swing dribbler in front of home plate by Max Muncy. Chris Taylor led off the third inning with the Dodgers’ first hit off Snell.
Taylor was stranded at second base and Snell went back to business, striking out the side again in the fourth and retiring the side in the fifth. Will Smith flew out to right field in that inning, only the second ball the managed to hit out of the infield.
Through five innings, Snell had nine strikeouts and the Dodgers had failed to put a single one of Snell’s fastballs in play.
“Had he stayed in the game, he may have pitched a complete game,” Betts said. “He was pitching really, really well. That’s the Cy Young Snell that came tonight. Once he came out of the game, it was a breath of fresh air.”
Snell has been handled with care since surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow in July 2019. So much care that he hadn’t completed six innings since last July in his final start before the elbow surgery.
When Austin Barnes singled to center field with one out in the sixth inning, Cash adhered to established protocol – no third time through the lineup, no more for Snell even though the top three hitters in the lineup coming around again had gone 0 for 6 with six strikeouts against him.
“I was shocked,” Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger said of Snell being pulled. “We were kind of joking around in the dugout – ‘Way to go. We got him out in the sixth just like we wanted to do.’ … Rallied from there. Snell had us stuck. He was gross. Yeah, I’d say it uplifted us.”
The sigh of relief coming from the Dodgers’ dugout nearly blew the roof at Globe Life Field open. Betts (unproductive all season against left-handed pitchers like Snell) doubled to left off right-handed reliever Nick Anderson. A wild pitch allowed Barnes to race home from third base and tie the score.
With Betts at third now, the Rays played the infield in and – unlike Game 1 before his game-turning dash home – third baseman Joey Wendle held Betts at third. No matter. When Seager bounced a ball to first baseman Ji-Man Choi, Betts bolted for home and beat Choi’s throw with a head-first dive.
The play might replace Kirk Gibson’s home run – or at least join it – on the highlight montage fans will see when they finally get to enter Dodger Stadium again.
“We have a certain formula with how we try to win ballgames, and it just didn’t work out,” Cash said of his decision to pull Snell.
Snell wouldn’t criticize his manager, telling reporters after the game, “If you are going to write bad stories about the decision, he is usually right.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts knows all about those bad stories.
Cash’s move to pull Snell was the kind of by-the-numbers move Dodgers fans accuse Roberts of making. Instead, Roberts was the one pushing all the right buttons at just the right time.
After Tony Gonsolin gave up a first-inning home run to Randy Arozarena, Roberts didn’t let him face the Rays’ record-setting postseason threat again. He pulled the plug on Gonsolin after five outs, then toggled from Dylan Floro (struck out Arozarena) to Alex Wood (two spotless innings) through Pedro Baez (whew) to Victor Gonzalez and Brusdar Graterol and finally to Julio Urias.
MLB couldn’t escape coronavirus fears on the final night. Turner was removed from Game 6 before it ended because he received a positive COVID-19 test result. The on-field celebration took place with the Dodgers wearing masks.
“It’s a bittersweet night for us,” MLB commissioner Manfred said in an on-field interview on the Fox broadcast after the game. “We’re glad to be done. I think it’s a great accomplishment for our players to get the season completed, but obviously, we’re concerned when any of our players test positive. We learned during the game that Justin was a positive. He was immediately isolated to prevent spread.”