The exact tonnage of the San Gabriel Mountains, which frame Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, has never been measured. But if anybody wants a good guess, they can ask any Los Angeles Dodger. Clayton Kershaw, after shouldering so much Dodger dismay for many years, might tell you to the ounce.
LA ought to feel weightless — flap those Dodger Blue arms and maybe you can fly. But MLB’s new champs now have a new and unfair weight to carry.
So, let’s help 'em.
This Dodgers title, clinched Tuesday with a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the World Series, will now be scrutinized and weighed. How valid is this virus-begotten bauble, some ask?
Let’s get this straight. The first Dodger title in 32 years should carry exactly as much heft — and as capably bear the examination of time — as any World Series won by their predecessors.
This championship is not an achievement that deserves an ounce of denigration, just because MLB’s exciting and uncharacteristically scrupulous examination came in an October after a mere 60-game regular season.
The issue is the opposite. Instead, we’d be wise to wonder if, because of the pandemic, this team was cheated — yes, again — this time bilked of a full 162-game chance to stamp itself as one of the greatest.
That is the true reputational damage this mini-season did to the Dodgers: not that they played too few games, but that they never got to play enough. The virus denied them, perhaps, a 115-win season and six-month records that could compare with anyone.
“We have a rich history,” said Dodgers owner Mark Walter on the victory platform, “but no other team has faced what this team did — an impossible year.”
The entire postseason, in which the Dodgers went 13-5 with a staggering 101-to-66 run differential, was a validation of their otherworldly 2.27-run average margin of victory in the regular season.
Of all the Yankee champions, only the 1939 New Yorkers had a bigger average margin, and they had five Hall of Famers, including Joe DiMaggio (who hit .381), and seven pitchers with double-digit wins. Nice company.
Too bad — really, too bad, not snarky “too bad” — that these Dodgers will not get to show if they could’ve matched full-season feats with such teams.
This pandemic has damaged everything. Don’t let it shrink the Dodgers' ring size: It’s extra-large, just like recent champs who made thrilling runs to end droughts on Chicago’s North Side and in the District of Columbia.
This year could have ended with a disputed winner. Results might have been challenged if a team with the 11th to 16th best record in the sport — such mediocre clubs have never been allowed in October before — had somehow gotten hot and grabbed a crown.
Despite having the best record in the game, and one of the highest winning percentages and average scoring margins ever, Los Angeles still had to face four rounds of playoffs, something no first-place team ever had to hurdle.
As a great team should, the Dodgers swept the Brewers in the kind of made-for-a-fluke-upset best-of-three series — against a sub-.500 team — that no best-in-MLB team should ever again have to play.
After sweeping the Padres, the Dodgers passed a fitting test of grit against Atlanta, the National League’s second-best team — seven games in seven days, in a series they trailed three games to one, requiring a rally from two runs down in Game 7.
Finally, burdened by memories of previous chokes over the past decade, Los Angeles had to digest the most embarrassing walk-off defeat in World Series history.
One double-error, quadruple-blunder play flipped a 7-6 win to an 8-7 loss when the Rays were down to their last strike. The center fielder booted a single, the cutoff man threw poorly toward home, the catcher whiffed a perfectly catchable toss and, just for unnecessary garnish, the losing pitcher forgot to back up home plate.
How would they “take it,” wear it, bear it - especially Kershaw, Mr. Mediocre in October (12-12 at that point) through his long luminous career?
After the Nationals eliminated Los Angeles in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS, with Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hitting back-to-back homers off Kershaw in relief, I asked a veteran LA journalist how many times Kershaw had been the prime suspect at a season-ending Dodgers crime scene.
I started to add them up. “We don’t have to do that around here,” he said, dismally. “It’s five now.”
The sixth time was the charm as Kershaw, nearly flawless for 5 2/3 winning innings of Game 5, even left the mound graciously when the Dodgers analytics overseers decreed that he depart.
This season’s final game will leave two unfortunate memories: one strategic, the other ethical.
Modern analytics define the Rays. Tampa Bay’s last 13 seasons are a prime perennial proof that they work, often brilliantly. But strong theories should be applied within context, not worshiped.
Game 6 turned on one awful decision by the Rays and enacted by manager Kevin Cash. When computers grow eyes, and can see 2018 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell fanning Mookie Betts twice — with two up-and-away 98-m.p.h. fastballs on which Betts swung two feet late — they will no longer reach idiotic conclusions like: “Go hook Snell after 73 pitches, including nine whiffs, when he’s pitching just like Sandy Koufax.”
The Rays' problem was not “analytics,” it was analytics malpractice. This season, Betts hit .200 with no homers against lefties. “Whew, thank you,” said Betts later of seeing Cash yank Snell. “He was rolling.”
Snell screamed the world’s favorite four-letter word as he left with a man on first and a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning. Betts doubled off Nick Anderson and the Dodgers soon led, 2-1.
Since L.A. might have won Game 6 anyway (Betts homered later — off a righthander) or Game 7, the Rays' colossal over-managing will be one more distraction from the Dodgers' excellence.
Finally, COVID-19 had to make a cameo in this series, didn’t it? What would 2020 be without the virus proving it could sneak in anywhere, even an MLB bubble? But Dodgers star Justin Turner, removed in the middle of Game 6 when one of his test results came back positive, did not have to turn himself into a poster boy for pandemic irresponsibility.
Turner will and should never live down returning to the field — knowing that he had the virus — to yell with teammates, pose maskless in team photos and hug whomever he pleased.
Neither bad Rays strategy nor Turner’s postgame folly should deter us from understanding what we just saw.
The most consistently excellent team of this era — with 2020 showcasing the very best version of itself — finally won an overdue championship by beating the second-best team in the NL, the best team in the AL, enduring four rounds of playoffs and doing it all under mountainous pressure during a pandemic.