The Dodgers Are World Series ChampionsRachael McDanielon October 28, 2020 at 6:16 am

The players gathered on the field in various states of face-covering. The winning team was at home, but wasn’t; they gathered in the middle of a dark, huge, faraway stadium, with fans spread haphazardly in the stands, some gathered in jubilant, worrying clusters. And as the trophies were about to be presented, the broadcast was interrupted by an announcement: Justin Turner, one of the most important members of this team for the past eight years, had exited the game mysteriously in the eighth inning. The reason for that exit, the public was somberly told, was that he had received a positive COVID-19 test.

But then, all of a sudden, it cut back to the field, to the smiling, hugging, weeping players, the speeches and the trophies and the booing and the cheering, just as if it was a normal World Series. Even Turner got his on-field shot with the trophy, despite being removed from the game to be isolated and prevent the spread of infection; even Turner joined the team for their group photo.

The pandemic rages on, even within the confines of the diamond: a place that so often attempts to shelter itself from the realities of living in society, that had been fighting to keep their bubble — or, at the very least, its appearance — intact. Turner’s test results from yesterday were, apparently, known to be positive in the second inning of tonight’s game. His test results from today were confirmed positive later. And yet, they kept playing baseball, right to the very end, through Game 6 of the World Series, with over 11,000 fans in attendance. The Dodgers, appearing in their third Fall Classic over the last four seasons, beat the Rays 3-1. In this truncated, bedeviled, dubious season, in a world rife with uncertainty, and heading into a dark and fearful winter, it was the best team in baseball that emerged victorious. And now, with Turner’s positive test and the questions it raises, the best team in baseball leaves their celebration not to celebrate further, but to rapid testing and quarantining — a shadow hanging over the sublime joy of a championship a long time in the making.

Just a few hours ago, though, none of this — Turner, COVID, the questions facing MLB and the Dodgers going forward — was in the game story. The game story was Randy Arozarena putting an exclamation point on his historic postseason, hitting his 10th October home run off Tony Gonsolin in the first to put the Rays up 1-0. When we look back on this October, Arozarena’s out-of-nowhere explosion into the most fearsome hitter on any postseason team’s lineup, a bonafide star carrying the Rays’ offense on his back, will certainly be near the top of the list of memorable moments.

And the game story was the Dodgers’ bullpen, so often postseason goats, who took over from the clearly struggling Gonsolin after just five outs in what was intended to be a full start from him. It was Dylan Floro, who came in with two on in the second and struck out Arozarena on three pitches to end the inning. It was the mostly-sidelined Alex Wood pitching two perfect, shockingly efficient innings of middle-relief; Pedro Báez, to whom much is always, somehow, given, redeeming the two-homer egg he laid in that wild Game 4; Victor González, who bailed out Báez after Arozarena got yet another hit; Brusdar Graterol, who overcame his wildness — and got a little help from Cody Bellinger’s superb fielding in center — to record two outs in the seventh; and Julio Urías, who closed out the NLCS, once again shutting down the opposing team over the final innings of the game.

And, perhaps more than anything, the game story was Blake Snell’s dominant, electrifying performance through five and a third: nine strikeouts, no walks, and just two hits, with the second hit being — controversially — the final batter he faced in the game. The score at that point was 1-0, just as it had been since the night’s second batter; Nick Anderson, who had allowed six runs in his six postseason appearances to that point, took over. It didn’t stay 1-0 for long. Mookie Betts, who struck out swinging twice against Snell, quickly doubled. A wild pitch brought home Barnes, and Betts, with his baserunning ability, came home on a Corey Seager groundball. The lead had changed for the final time in this World Series.

On some level, it wasn’t surprising that Snell was lifted. He hadn’t seen a seventh inning all season. The few sixth innings he’d seen were largely unsuccessful. This is what the Rays do; with their dominant bullpen, it had worked out to that point. But it was also easy to see why Snell seemed so incensed at his removal. The Dodgers’ powerful lineup, so productive in this World Series — the Dodgers, you may recall, had held a lead at some point in 27 consecutive innings prior to tonight — seemed utterly useless against Snell. Their fearsome top-of-the-lineup trio of Betts, Seager, and Turner were all 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against him through the first five innings; he was at a very reasonable 73 pitches on the night. Snell’s CSW% on all his pitches was an eye-popping 40%. In short, he looked fantastic. It’s hard to imagine a pitcher looking much better than Snell did for most of Game 6; it’s hard to imagine how the outcome might have differed had he stayed in the game.

But, ultimately, it was the Rays’ struggling lineup that doomed them. Only scoring one run meant that perfection was demanded of a bullpen that had already been worked extraordinarily hard, tasked with preserving many a tight lead over the course of this postseason. Maybe Snell would have thrown a complete-game shutout if left to his own devices. Or maybe he would have given up a single run, and the Dodgers would have scratched one across on Anderson or Pete Fairbanks anyway. Lifting Snell may have given the Dodgers a second wind, and Anderson may not have been the right choice to replace him if a replacement needed to be made, but with Rays relievers fallible and the Rays’ hitters almost entirely ineffective, it was an uphill battle for them regardless of the pitching choices. When Betts added an exclamation-point solo shot in the eighth to bring the score to 3-1, the writing was on the wall.

When we did our staff postseason predictions, 13 of us picked the Dodgers to win it all. It was the obvious choice; they were the strongest team in the bracket. They breezed to their eighth straight division title, and they hardly broke a sweat against the Brewers and Padres in the first two postseason rounds. It was in the NLCS, where they returned from series deficits of 2-0 and 3-1, where they seemed to exorcise some of the demons that have haunted their run of postseason losses. And in that incredible, whirlwind Game 4, one could see the specters rising again: the narrative of the Dodgers, who managed to find new and bizarre ways to lose when it mattered the most. Not this year. Clayton Kershaw had his best postseason, not on the hook for any heartbreakers. Kenley Jansen was the loser in Game 4, but was critical in the come-from-behind NLCS victory. Mookie Betts, the new star in town who will be around for a long, long time, led them to a title in his first year; and looking at this team, whose depth is their great strength, one can see the contributions coming from every direction — even from Joe Kelly.

It should be so satisfying, this story. And it was! And then, at the same time, it wasn’t — as Turner, having been instructed to isolate himself for the health of the public in the biggest moment of his life, ran around the field, sometimes masked and sometimes not, posing with the trophy and joining the team photo. “I didn’t touch him,” said Dave Roberts, the second Black and first Asian-American manager to win a World Series, and a cancer survivor whose health could be severely jeopardized by COVID. There was the overwhelming joy, the history of it all, and there was the fear, and there was moment of realization, the memory of all those shots of maskless fans under a closed roof, the deep unknown in the days ahead: What are we doing? What are we doing? All of it, all at the same time, all over again — for one last time in this tragic, maddening year.
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