Baseball

Los Angeles Dodgers win first World Series since 1988: How they did it

The Dodgers pounced on an ill-timed pitching substitution by Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash to close out the series 4-2.

By ZK Goh ·

After a hard-fought World Series that went six games on neutral ground in Texas, the Los Angeles Dodgers have won their first Major League Baseball championship since 1988.

Led by series most valuable player Corey Seager, who went 8-for-20 with two home runs, the Dodgers took home their seventh Fall Classic in team history.

The Dodgers will be glad to have won the series, having reached this stage of the postseason in both 2017 and 2018 before losing to the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox respectively.

The Dodgers' title is also the second of the year in a major North American league for the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Lakers, led by LeBron James, won the NBA Finals earlier this month.

Here's how the series played out, and the standout moments from an intriguing series.

Clayton Kershaw breaks his postseason hoodoo

We saw it in Game 1 and again in Game 5 (when the Dodgers took a series lead they never gave up). Clayton Kershaw was not the postseason Clayton Kershaw of old.

Coming into the series, Kershaw's career playoff record was 11–12 with a 4.31 earned run average – average, at best. While ERA is not normally considered an entirely reliable statistic to judge a pitcher's performance, his regular season career ERA is 2.43 – well in the realms of greatness. He has clearly struggled more in October, for whatever reason.

But not in this series. Kershaw did well in both his starts, allowing only three runs and striking out 14 in 11-and-two-thirds innings of work – numbers far more in line with what he's produced in a Hall of Fame-calibre career.

Clayton Kershaw is taken out of Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2020 MLB World Series. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

That wild Game 4 finish

Losing by a run, down to their final out – final strike, even – and on the verge of going down 3–1 in the series.

Step up… Brett Phillips? A player who wasn't even on the Rays' roster for the previous round of the playoffs against the Astros. A player who didn't even start the game and was only a late pinch running replacement.

Kenley Jansen, one of the best relievers in baseball – although some will refute that based on his last three years – on the mound. And somehow, a comedy of errors ensued.

A single into centre-field sent the tying run (Kevin Kiermaier) across the plate. But then the fielder, Chris Taylor, misplayed the ball. By the time he had control of it, Randy Arozarena was around third base and headed for home.

Arozarena was the winning run – but he slipped between third and home. And yet, when catcher Will Smith went to catch Taylor's throw, he fluffed his lines and Jansen wasn't backing the throw up behind the plate. Arozarena scored, Phillips and the Rays went wild, and the Dodgers had lost in improbable fashion.

Although the Rays would go on to lose the series, that finish will go down as one of the quirkiest ever in the sport's history, a reminder of why baseball remains special to so many.

Snell dominates, but Cash managerial mistakes cost Rays

Blake Snell was imperious for the Rays in his two World Series starts, striking out nine Dodgers on each occasion.

In Game 2, he was pulled by manager Kevin Cash in the fifth inning after allowing a baserunner, although the Rays held on to win the game. (Cash had, in Game 1, left starter Tyler Glasnow in the game until Glasnow had thrown 112 pitches and was clearly struggling.)

Cash's propensity for hooking his starting pitchers early came back to bite in Game 6, however. With Snell dealing on the mound and the Rays holding a 1-0 lead (no walks, nine strikeouts, and only two baserunners allowed), Cash reacted to a one-out sixth inning single by going to Nick Anderson.

Anderson, normally one of the Rays' sturdiest relievers, promptly gave up a double to Mookie Betts before uncorking a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score. Betts then scored on a close fielder's choice attempt at home, before the next hitter (Max Muncy) sent one to deep centre where the ball was caught.

Anderson was relieved immediately. It was the seventh straight postseason game in which he had allowed a run, an MLB postseason record (and likely not one he wants to hear about).

That was a lead the Dodgers never gave up, and a managerial error that Cash will be haunted by for years to come.

New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard summed it up in one short tweet.

Where next for the two teams?

The core of this Rays group looks likely to stay together in Tampa Bay, trades notwithstanding, for the foreseeable future.

Only catcher Mike Zunino is an outright free agent this winter. While pitcher Charlie Morton (who would have started a Game 7 for the Rays) has a vesting option for 2021, he will hit his age 37 season next year and has to decide if he wants to continue playing.

Of course, they play in the stacked American League East, which had both the Jays and Yankees also qualify for this year's expanded playoffs, while the Red Sox, traditionally a challenger too, are in a rebuild. The Rays should be set for an extended run of postseason appearances until the Red Sox start challenging again.

The picture is a bit blurrier in Los Angeles.

Third baseman Justin Turner is still a consistent performer for the Dodgers – he has hit a combined .307 over the last four seasons – but he's entering his age 36 season and hitting free agency. Will the Dodgers pay him what he asks for based on his performances, taking his age into account?

Relievers Blake Treinen and Pedro Báez, outfielder Joc Pederson, utility man Enrique Hernández, and starting pitcher Alex Wood are all also free agents. Pederson, who has spent his entire career in the Dodgers system, struggled this year and was the subject of a (failed) trade with the cross-town Los Angeles Angels, so perhaps he might not return. The rest of the names on the list all only signed one-year deals last season. Which of the lot will return?

The season as a whole

After a much-delayed start to the season, MLB finally managed to put a 60-game schedule together after much wrangling with the MLB Players' Association.

New rules, some of them specific to this season, were introduced: seven-inning doubleheaders, relievers having to face a minimum of three batters, the Designated Hitter in the National League, and perhaps most controversially a runner being placed on second base for extra innings.

That last rule isn't new, per se – variations of it have been used in independent ball, the minor leagues, the World Baseball Classic, the WBSC Premier12, and the Olympic Games. But it was used for the first time in the MLB, and was met with near-universal derision.

Also of note, with the number of established players choosing to opt out of the season over health concerns: the opportunities afforded to top prospects.

Some teams – the Astros and Blue Jays, notably so for their postseason appearances – called players straight up from Class A. Others relied on more established names from their minor league systems.

Olympic ramifications

Of the players who played in last November's WBSC Premier12, a Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying event, 11 made their MLB debuts this year.

Ten of them – Jo Adell (Angels), Alec Bohm (Philadelphia Phillies), Jake Cronenworth (San Diego Padres), Bobby Dalbec (Red Sox), J.P. Feyereisen (Milwaukee Brewers), Tanner Houck (Red Sox), Mark Payton (Cincinnati Reds), Cody Ponce (Pittsburgh Pirates), Brent Rooker (Minnesota Twins), and Daulton Varsho (Arizona Diamondbacks) – were on the U.S. roster; the other (Kim Kwang-hyun of the St Louis Cardinals) played for South Korea.

Olympic selection rules agreed between the MLB, WBSC, and MLB Players' Assocation state that any MLB-affiliated player may be selected as long as the player is not on his MLB team's active roster.

Bohm, Cronenworth, Dalbec, Houck, and Kim – at least – all appear likely to be part of their teams' setups in 2021, which would rule them out of the Tokyo Games (although Team USA has yet to qualify).

Phillies right fielder and 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper, at least, wants the rules to change. Back in May, the 28-year-old called the exclusion of MLB players a "travesty".

If it's any consolation, baseball and softball at the Los Angeles 2028 Games – if selected as one of the Organising Committee's additional sports picks – will likely take place at both Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium, and perhaps in some other California ballparks too.