ARLINGTON, Texas — With third baseman Joey Wendle playing 10 feet off the line, Mookie Betts took an aggressive lead and dashed a few steps toward the plate as Tyler Glasnow released his pitch.
When Max Muncy slapped the ball on the ground to the right side, it was already too late. Betts beat the throw to the plate with a headfirst slide.
Betts bounced up and pumped his fists, having created a run in Game 1 of the World Series with his boundless baseball savvy as much as his speed.
When Betts came to the plate an inning later, in the sixth, he lined a fastball the other way for a home run.
Is this what it was like to watch Willie Mays in his prime?
Except the Say Hey Kid never homered, stole two bases and scored two runs in a World Series game. No player had until Betts did in Game 1 as the Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-3, on Tuesday night.
That the Red Sox felt they could not afford to sign Betts and traded him to the Dodgers in January seemed destined to go down in baseball history as one of the all-time blunders when the deal was made.
Now, as the consequences play out on a national stage, it gets only more painful for the Sox and their fans. Imagine giving that guy up? But they did.
After winning the final three games of the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers retained their momentum with a multi-faceted offense backed by the stellar pitching of Clayton Kershaw.
The lefthander allowed one run on two hits over six innings with one walk and eight strikeouts, overmatching the Rays with his slider. Kershaw threw only 78 pitches and could have gone another inning but manager Dave Roberts played it safe with an eye on the remainder of the series.
As Kershaw brushed aside what had been uneven performances in previous World Series games, the Dodgers went where Betts took them offensively.
With the Dodgers leading, 2-1, in the fifth inning, Betts drew a one-out walk off Glasnow. When Corey Seager also walked, it seemed sure Rays manager Kevin Cash would take Glasnow out of the game and turn to what has been an effective bullpen all season.
The righthander had thrown 99 pitches and was struggling with his command with the middle of the order coming up for a third time.
Glasnow stayed in the game and struck out Justin Turner, but Betts and Seager executed a double steal.
Betts then scored on Muncy’s groundout before Will Smith singled in Seager.
“Stolen bases are a thing for me. That’s how I create runs and cause a little havoc on the bases,” Betts said. “Once I get on the base paths I’m just trying to touch home. However I get there is how I get there.”
Cash finally took out Glasnow, but lefthander Ryan Yarbrough allowed run-scoring singles by Chris Taylor and pinch hitter Kike Hernandez.
The socially distanced crowd of 11,388 at Globe Life Field appeared to be made up almost entirely of Dodgers fans based on their reaction.
Roberts felt the double steal set up the big inning. Earlier this season, Betts told Seager to follow his lead if the situation presented itself. When it did, the Dodgers pounced.
“With one out to get to second and third and make it situational was huge,” Roberts said.
After his teammates scored four runs and sent nine men to the plate, Kershaw got three outs on nine pitches in the sixth inning.
Betts came back to the plate and homered. Doubles by Turner and Muncy made it 8-1. The Dodgers looked like a basketball team putting on a withering press and the Rays couldn’t catch their breath.
“The pressure Mookie puts on other teams is huge for us,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “It’s a different aspect of the game for us. I love the way he plays.”
Kershaw savors the highlight moments, but what impresses him most about Betts is the day-to-day consistency of his effort.
“That’s what separates him from other players,” Kershaw said.
“We’re so lucky to have him on our team,” said Cody Bellinger, whose two-run homer in the fourth inning got the Dodgers started.
The Dodgers very much appreciate Betts, of that you can be sure.
Betts was asked what he liked doing more, scoring runs or driving them in.
“I like winning,” he said. “Whichever one is needed that day, I’m trying to do that.”
The winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the World Series 63 percent of the time, including 14 times in the last 17 years.
The Dodgers have not won a championship since 1988 with Tommy Lasorda managing Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser. Now it’s Roberts with Betts and Kershaw. They look unstoppable.