Playing nine innings while wondering if the boos are still ringing in Rob Manfred’s ears …
1. Those Mookie Betts-doesn’t-perform-in-the-playoffs narratives were always disingenuous, if not downright stupid. Now, they’re dead. In winning his second World Series title in three years, Betts slashed .296/.378/.493 in 18 games this postseason. His sixth-inning double was a pivotal hit in the go-ahead rally in Game 6, and his home run in the eighth inning was the exclamation point.
He was the run-saving defensive star of at least two games — which, of course, matters immensely, because those old narratives were always so tied up in batting average, ignoring the various other ways he impacted games. He was the tone-setting all-around star of Game 1, with a homer, two steals, a savvy baserunning decision, and that brilliant defense.
The Dodgers seem to appreciate what they have, don’t they? Manager Dave Roberts called the trade for him “a steal,” and if Dave Roberts knows anything, it’s steals.
2. There is one disappointing thing about Betts: His response to Justin Turner’s selfish decision to celebrate with his teammates — at times maskless, and blissfully unbothered by how his presence might affect others — after he was pulled from Game 6 for a positive COVID-19 test. When Betts was asked about Turner coming out on the field, hugging teammates and posing for photos, he said, “He’s part of the team. Forget all that. He’s part of the team. We’re not excluding him from anything.”
I recognize it’s not entirely fair to ask even a player and person of Betts’s high character to be the one Dodger to exhibit some common sense regarding Turner’s situation, but that “forget all that” element really rubbed me the wrong way. Ask old teammate Eduardo Rodriguez how easy it is to forget all that.
3. Turner is a beloved member of the Dodgers who has been through a lot of disappointment in recent years. It’s understandable why he’d want to be on the field, and why his teammates would want him there. But his actions are a microcosm for the mess we’re in nationwide, too many among us unwilling to make even a modest sacrifice for the benefit of others. They warrant a significant suspension for the free-agent-to-be.
Apparently MLB security — I’m envisioning several variations of Paul Blart, Mall Cop — told Turner to return to isolation, and he refused in a way that was apparently as colorful as his hair. It’s ridiculous that that was the end of it. Manfred and higher MLB authorities should have threatened immediate suspension, or told the Dodgers that if he didn’t leave the field, there would be no trophy presentation and the party was over.
4. The Dodgers, as you may have noticed, ended their 32-year championship drought on the 16th anniversary of the Red Sox ending their 86-year drought. The Dave Roberts factor should have been enough for Red Sox fans to pull for the Dodgers, but even if you couldn’t bring yourself to pull for an LA team, there were some common themes, including the privilege of watching an all-time great pitcher (Pedro Martinez then, Clayton Kershaw now) get a well-deserved moment of postseason redemption. Those 2004 Red Sox, of course, are forever remembered as The Idiots. These Dodgers will be remembered that way too, not just because they were fun-loving and oblivious to pressure, but for that collectively pea-brained celebration.
5. Kind of fitting that Blake Snell’s season began with him threatening not to pitch and ended with him not being allowed to pitch long enough. The Rays' decision — executed by manager Kevin Cash, but certainly not something he came up with without the input of the front office — to pull the electrifying Snell in the sixth inning of Game 6 backfired spectacularly. It already stands as Exhibit A for those who want to blame “analytics” for everything that ails baseball right now.
I get that to some degree. That decision wholly disregarded human nature, not to mention the frustration Snell was inducing in the Dodgers' hitters. I suspect that if the decision had been completely up to Cash, who spent eight years in the majors as a backup catcher, he would have had the sense to leave Snell in at least until trouble began percolating.
6. It is transparently disingenuous to say one boneheaded data-driven decision proves “analytics” — the brush always paints broadly with that word, with few specifics offered — don’t work or should be heretofore dismissed after the Snell disaster. I love old-school baseball — how much more Butch Hobson fan fiction do I have to write, people? — but also appreciate sabermetrics and the new ways to understand baseball, and I know this: Analytics were a winner in this season and series, despite the Snell disaster.
7. The Rays won 51 of 80 games and wiped out the Yankees, and lost the World Series to a data-driven Dodgers organization with the benefit of a much fatter wallet. Many of the Rays' front office brains are understudies of the Dodgers' Andrew Friedman, who left Tampa Bay for LA in 2014. Heck, and it’s not like the Dodgers were conventional in the clincher, using seven pitchers, with finisher Julio Urias (2⅓ innings to close it out) pitching longer than starter Tony Gonsolin (1⅔ innings).
8. When Cash (again, as the conduit of the front office) made the boneheaded decision to pull Snell for the struggling Nick Anderson, the flashbacks to Grady Little’s blunder with Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS came roaring back. But that was really an opposite scenario. Little disregarded data provided by the front office — I believe there was a folder titled ALERT: PEDRO’S ARM MELTS AFTER 105 PITCHES — and left a tired pitcher in too long. Cash appeased his bosses and their data and pulled a cruising pitcher too early.
9. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that Roberts made a similar (if slightly more justifiable) decision to the Cash/Snell Debacle two years ago, to the great aid of the Red Sox, when he pulled Rich Hill after 91 pitches and just a single hit in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series. The Sox trailed, 4-0, in the seventh inning when Hill was removed with one out and one on for Scott Alexander. Dodgers relievers allowed nine runs (including one charged to Hill) and recorded eight outs the rest of the way. Feels like a long time ago, huh?