The Dodgers reacted to one of the worst losses in their history like champions. So now they are one victory away from actually calling themselves that.
Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw quickly established yesterday was yesterday, so tomorrow the Dodgers are in position to clinch their first title since 1988. Saturday was for regret, Sunday for redemption and now Tuesday can be for baseball’s ultimate reward.
Los Angeles suffered the kind of setback Saturday that can last forever. The Dodgers were done with it 24 hours later, just as they had promised.
“We showed up worrying about today [Game 5],” first baseman Max Muncy said.
So for Los Angeles, World Series Game 4 was brutal, the Game 5 response beautiful. They won with long at-bats and short memories. Kershaw negated a straight steal attempt of home by Manuel Margot and found huge outs in big moments.
And Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts, whose decision making — like Kershaw’s pitching — has faced a lot of October criticism, made a series of relief moves that all could have been second-guessed. Each worked. A lot of Roberts’ postseason body blows revolve around sticking too long with Kershaw and turning in the end to Kenley Jansen. In Game 5, Roberts pulled a cruising Kershaw, ignored Jansen and watched his pitching maneuvers secure a 4-2 victory.
“I have to have clarity on making the decision,” Roberts said. “Ultimately, my job is to help the Dodgers win the World Series.”
That is tantalizingly close now. After 32 years of seeing Kirk Gibson gimp around the bases to symbolize the organization’s last title, the Dodgers are on the doorstep of winning it all for the first time since 1988, leading this series three games to two.
The Rays have shown they will not go easily. But following Monday’s off day, the Dodgers will try to break the pattern of the 116th World Series in which they have won the odd games — 1, 3 and 5 — and the Rays the even — 2 and 4 — in Tuesday’s Game 6.
Game 5 lacked the drama and trauma of Game 4. But pretty much all 677 World Series games in history fell short of the Russian novel that resulted in an 8-7 Rays triumph that knotted the World Series at two games apiece. The greatest tension and attention in Game 5 was focused on how Roberts juggled his pitching to protect a lead created immediately.
Betts won an eight-pitch at-bat against Tyler Glasnow, opening the game with a double. Seager followed with an RBI single. Before the first inning was over, the Dodgers had two runs and had made Glasnow expend 34 pitches. Joc Pederson homered leading off the second. Kershaw gifted two runs back in the third and walked the first two hitters in the fourth. The first to walk, Margot, had stolen second and went to third on a mishandled throw.
But Joey Wendle popped up and Willy Adames struck out. With Kevin Keirmaier batting, Margot tried to capitalize on Kershaw having his back to the runner at third and took off for home. Kershaw stepped off to avoid a balk, threw to the plate and Austin Barnes applied a tag to just erase Margot’s attempt to steal a run.
The Wendle pop-up began a streak of seven straight outs by Kershaw, including the first two in the sixth on just two pitches. But Roberts had a pregame plan of just 21 batters for Kershaw and reasserted that before the sixth inning. Kershaw was at 21 batters so Roberts removed the veteran lefty despite an on-mound protest from third baseman Justin Turner.
“That was the plan the whole time,” said Muncy, whose fifth-inning homer provided a 4-2 lead. “I think all of us wanted Kersh to stay in. But they had a plan, they executed the plan and it worked out for us.”
It did because Dustin May rebounded from a mostly poor postseason by closing the sixth, going 1-2-3 in the seventh and leaving with one out and one on in the eighth — Mr. May becoming Mr. October, at least for a night. He was so good that there was surprise that Roberts didn’t let May go further. Instead, he turned to Victor Gonzalez, who walked pinch-hitter Mike Brosseau and then retired two straight to close the eighth.
That left one mystery — quickly solved as Blake Treinen warmed and Jansen kept his sweatshirt on. Jansen was in the middle of the Saturday collapse and 8-7 gut punch. He recorded his fourth World Series blown save, a record. Roberts said he was more comfortable using Treinen a third straight day than Jansen. But that sounded diplomatic, like Roberts saying that Jansen would pitch in “high leverage” moving forward while never committing to the ninth inning.
Treinen allowed a ninth-inning leadoff single to Margot, but retired three straight afterward. Kershaw would say, “It was an unbelievable job by those three guys [May, Gonzalez and Treinen].” It was gutsy by Roberts to go this way, to ignore his history and diminish the role and responsibility of his most accomplished pitchers.
But those decisions helped the Dodgers push away from the misery of Game 4, win Game 5 and move to the brink of the organization’s first title in more than three decades.