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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Dodgers win the World Series, breaking 32-year trophy-less drought

Feeling like 1988

For the second time in 16 days, the city of Los Angeles welcomed home a champion. 

After the Lakers clinched their NBA title earlier in the month, the Dodgers held their own, snapping their 32 year World Series drought in a six-game series over the Tampa Bay Rays. It became the second time that both the Dodgers and Lakers won in the same year, the first in 1988. To this day, Los Angeles remains the only city to have both their MLB and NBA teams win a title in the same year and it became the first city to win those two in the same month. For the Dodgers, this long-awaited championship brought an end to the narratives that surrounded them and many of their players. 

After losing in the World Series in 2017 and 2018, as well as suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Washington Nationals last year, many believed the Dodgers’ reign over the National League would come to an end. The team knew that it needed to make a major move in order to get over the hump and that they did. In February of this year, they acquired former American League MVP Mookie Betts in a trade with the Boston Red Sox. Betts has been largely considered one of the best players in baseball over the last couple of years and the Dodgers hoped that this would be the move to finally make them champions.

After the coronavirus pandemic delayed the MLB season and the shortened 60 game season came to a close, the never-before-seen playoffs began. They were expanded to 16 teams from 10 and made every team play a best-of three Wild Card Series. Under the new format, every round’s games up to the World Series would be played on consecutive days. This added a new element to the postseason, as managers now had to account for the lack of rest day when it came to managing their bullpen. 

Going 43-17 and clinching the best record in the National League once again, the Dodgers first-round opponent, the Milwaukee Brewers, limped into the playoffs after a disappointing year that saw them go 29-31. LA beat them soundly in back to back games and advanced to their eighth straight National League Division Series, where they went up against the young and fiery San Diego Padres. The Padres were coming off a year where they broke a drought of their own, advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2006. After winning the first game comfortably and narrowly escaping in Game 2, the Dodgers, one win away from their fourth National League Championship Series in five years, unleashed the floodgates in Game 3, beating the Padres 12-3 and finishing the sweep. 

The only team that stood between the Dodgers and another National League pennant was the rising Atlanta Braves. Having suffered a crushing defeat in last year’s postseason, the energetic team finished with a 35-25 record, clinching the National League East once again. Led by MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and young star Ronald Acuña, the Braves took the first two games of the series. It took a record-setting performance in Game 3 that saw the Dodgers score 11 runs in the first inning, the most in a single inning in postseason history, to get them back in the series. But in Game 4, Atlanta soundly defeated the Dodgers by a score of 10-2, leaving LA one win away from another disappointing postseason exit. 

With their backs against the wall in Game 5, the Dodgers exploded in the sixth inning and won the game by a score of 7-3, keeping their season alive. In Game 6, the Dodgers scored three runs in the first inning, and that proved to be all they needed as their starting pitcher Walker Buehler went six innings without allowing a run, setting up his bullpen nicely to secure the win and tie the series. In the winner-take-all Game 7, we saw a tightly contested, back-and-forth matchup where the Braves led entering the sixth. But, Kiké Hernandez’s solo home run in the bottom half of the inning tied the game. As the game winded down, the pressure was at an all-time high. With 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger up at the plate in the bottom of the seventh, he delivered an iconic home run, giving the Dodgers the lead and eventually the win.

“This year is our year,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said during the trophy presentation. “This is our year!”

Holding the best record in the American League at 40-20, the Tampa Bay Rays entered the playoffs on a mission. Having suffered a brutal defeat to the Houston Astros the year prior, the Rays were focused on reaching their first World Series since 2008 on the backs of their low-cost team driven by under the radar player acquisition and development of talent. Despite being the best team in the American League, their lack of big-name stars meant they were often overlooked when it came to World Series predictions. In the opening Wild Card Series, the Rays matched up against the young Toronto Blue Jays team and comfortably put them away in two games. In their American League Division Series matchup, they faced off against the prohibitive American League favorite, the New York Yankees. 

Splitting the first four games of the series, the Rays went into the decisive Game 5 against the Yankees hoping for one of the biggest wins in franchise history. With New York starting their best pitcher and big-name free agent acquisition Gerrit Cole, the task would be a great one. Going down 1-0 in the fourth inning, the Rays responded with a run of their own in the fifth and as it got closer to extra innings, pinch hitter Mike Brosseau took Aroldis Chapman deep, delivering the knockout blow to the Yankees.

Hoping to get revenge for their exit the previous postseason, the Rays faced the Astros. Winning the first three games by a combined six-run difference, it seemed as if Tampa Bay would cruise into the World Series comfortably. But, the Astros did not stop fighting, winning Game’s 4 and 5 by one run. In Game 6, the Rays tried everything in their power to not lose grasp of their almost insurmountable 3-0 lead, but a late explosion by Houston forced a Game 7. With Tampa’s ace and former Astro Charlie Morton on the mound, the Rays felt confident that they would not fall victim like the Yankees did in 2004, in which they blew a 3-0 lead to the Boston Red Sox. Morton gave them 5.2 scoreless innings and after taking a two-run lead in the first inning, they never looked back, advancing to their first World Series in 12 years.

The World Series between two of the biggest analytical teams in Major League Baseball would prove to be a chess match. Being the first Fall Classic since 2013 to see the two best teams from their respective leagues, this matchup was the best baseball had to offer this year. With the longtime ace on the mound for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw silenced many as he threw six innings allowing just two hits and one earned run. The Dodgers would cruise to a Game 1 victory, but in Game 2, they started rookie Tony Gonsolin who only lasted 1.1 innings. It became a bullpen game for them and the Rays took advantage, going on to win Game 2 by a score of 6-4.

With Buehler back on the mound for the Dodgers, his six-inning gem was too much for the Rays to handle as Tampa Bay accumulated just four hits in the entirety of the game. The following day, in what was arguably the best game of the World Series, the Dodgers and Rays went back and forth, exchanging runs. Up 7-6 and one strike away from going up 3-1 in the series, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen gave up a hit to Rays’ Brett Phillips and two fielding errors by LA’s position players caused mayhem to ensue. The Rays scored two runs and walked it off, tying the series at two games apiece.

This kind of crushing loss is one that can demoralize a club, so many watched Game 5 for an indication of how the Dodgers would respond. Right out of the gate, LA scored two runs and never looked back, leaving them one win away from the World Series title that had been eluding them for years. The Rays, however, would not go away without a fight, as they answered and took a one-run lead in the first inning. This lead would carry them into the sixth inning, still ahead. But, a questionable call by Rays’ manager Kevin Cash left many scratching their heads. Starting pitcher Blake Snell was being pulled after just 5.1 innings and 73 pitches. He was virtually unhittable in Game 6, but the Rays’ philosophy of not letting a pitcher face a batter three times was more important to Cash. After Snell was pulled, the Dodgers took advantage and took the lead on a Corey Seager hit scored by Mookie Betts. Betts himself added another insurance run in the bottom of the eighth and Julio Urias closed out the game with a hitless 2.1 innings, handing the Dodgers their first World Series in 32 years. 

Years and years of heartbreak and disappointment came to a close for the Dodgers in this wild year. The conclusion of the season still came with some controversy, however. After being pulled in the sixth inning due to what was later announced as a positive COVID test, Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner came back on the field and celebrated with his teammates, hugging them and oftentimes not wearing a mask. This sparked heavy criticism on MLB and the Dodgers and there is an ongoing investigation by the league to see whether they will penalize all parties involved. 

This year was a bumpy road for Major League Baseball, from start to finish. Having just concluded this season, the league is looking into what they plan to do for the 2021 season. They released their schedule back in July, but with much uncertainty about the status of the pandemic in the country on April 1, MLB will need to develop a plan that will fit under all circumstances, or easily adjustable on the fly. It’s unknown whether there will be a minor league baseball season in 2021 and after canceling this year, it would be another huge blow to the already underpaid players in the farm systems. 

The hope for Major League Baseball at the moment is to hold a 162 game regular season in 2021. If possible, they also hope to have at least some fans, as it is estimated that they lost about $3 billion this season alone. Another season with no fans would have a brutal financial impact on these clubs and many would enter a stage of uncertainty.

As of right now, MLB is working as if their schedule will remain the same. Spring training is scheduled for Feb. 27, but is also “subject to change.” Not much is known about the major changes to the year and dates that are available at the moment are not ones that give a lot of certainty. The conclusion of this season gives MLB a chance to exhale, try to improve next year and hopefully set up a more successful season than this year. 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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