Three hours before Game 6, I posted Hot Stove #145. The Lonnie’s Jukebox section celebrated some #1 hits from 1970, and the final selection was “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross. I borrowed from the song and finished the post with this message to the Tampa Bay Rays:
And a final word to the Tampa Bay Rays…Ain’t no mountain high enough…to keep you away from winning the World Series. Well, maybe Mookie.
And it happened. Well, the Mookie part.
It was all going so smoothly for the Rays in Game 6. Blake Snell, the ace of the Rays staff, had cruised through the first five innings, striking out nine and allowing only one hit. No walks. The Rays led 1-0. At the start of the 6th, Snell got the first batter out on a pop fly. The next batter, Austin Barnes, reached base on a single. Up next for the Dodgers was Mookie Betts who had struck out in his first two at bats. Rays manager Kevin Cash walked to the mound and took Snell out of the game. Jaws dropped around the world.
As reported by Ken Rosenthal in the Athletic, the Dodgers looked at each other in disbelief. From the on-deck circle, Betts glanced at Dodger manager Dave Roberts and grinned. “Had he stayed in the game, he may have pitched a complete game,” Betts said. “Once he came out of the game, it was just a breath of fresh air.”
Betts greeted reliever Nick Anderson by lining a double down the left field line, moving Barnes to third base. Corey Seager came up to bat. Anderson uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Barnes to score and Betts to go to third. Seager then hit a grounder to first base. Mookie was off at the crack of the bat and his head-first slide beat the throw to the plate. Los Angeles led 2-1.
In the top of the 8th, Dodger third baseman Justin Turner did not take the field. He was out of the game. It was a mystery.
In the bottom of the 8th, the Dodgers picked up an insurance run on a homer. By Mookie Betts.
The Dodgers won 3-1, taking the 2020 World Series four games to two. As they celebrated on the field, one player in the mix had just tested positive for COVID-19. It was red-bearded Justin Turner, shown below (sans mask) posing for the team photo with manager (and cancer survivor) Dave Roberts. It’s so 2020.
Now for a recap of how the teams got to Game 6…
The Venue: The Dodgers play their home games in Dodgers Stadium. Built in 1962, it is the oldest MLB park outside of Fenway and Wrigley. The Rays were established in 1998 and play their home games in the domed Tropicana Field located in St. Petersburg, part of the Tampa Bay area. The “Tampa Bay” designation is also used by the NHL Lightning and NFL Buccaneers who play in the city of Tampa.
But that’s just trivia. All games of the 2020 World Series were played in a COVID-bubble at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Over a thousand miles from both Dodgers Stadium and Tropicana Field. Globe Life Field opened this year as the new home of the Texas Rangers who have never won a World Series. When they do, they will not be the first to do so at Globe Life Field. That privilege now resides with the Dodgers.
The Games: Over half the runs scored in the Series were the result of home runs. There were a ton of strikeouts – in Game 6, the teams combined for 27 strikeouts, a new Series record. So it was a lot like the regular season. But the Series also produced its share of tension and excitement and repeatedly reminded us of why we love baseball.
Game 1: Dodgers 8, Rays 3. The main storyline was that Clayton Kershaw got the win, pitching six innings and allowing one run. His prior postseason record is mixed at best, so it was good to see him pitch like he does in the regular season. In the last Hot Stove, I listed a couple of career records held by Whitey Ford – best winning percentage for a pitcher who won more than 200 games (236-106, .690) and lowest ERA in the live-ball era for pitchers starting over 200 games (2.75). There is a good chance that Kershaw will break both of those. His current career stats: 175-76 (.697) and 2.43 ERA.
But it was Mookie Betts who drew my interest. Two years ago, as a member of the Red Sox, he played in the World Series against the Dodgers. The Red Sox won that Series. After the 2019 season, the Red Sox traded Mookie to the Dodgers, generating a raging negative fan reaction in Boston. It’s been compared to the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees a hundred years ago. And the Red Sox fans were about to get a cruel reminder of that connection.
In the 5th inning, Betts led off with a walk. He stole second. He stole third. He scored on an infield bouncer to the right side. It was only the second time in World Series history that a walk had been followed by two stolen bases. The other occurred in 1921. When Babe Ruth did it. ESPN quickly tweeted that fact and the photos:
Game 2: Rays 6, Dodgers 4. Lots of home runs (5) and strikeouts (22). Ji-man Choi of the Rays became the first Korean-born player to get a hit in the World Series. On to Game 3.
Game 3: Dodgers 6, Rays 2. Dodgers ace Walker Buehler got the win, pitching six innings and allowing one run.
Randy Arozarena hit his 8th homer of the 2020 postseason, tying the record held by Barry Bonds (2002), Carlos Beltran (2004) and Nelson Cruz (2011).
Best play of the game: a squeeze bunt by Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes (video here).
Barnes also hit a home run in the game. One other player has had the squeeze/homer combo in the World Series – Hector Lopez in 1961.
[Hector Lopez Trivia: I saw a lot of Hector Lopez in 1955 (his rookie season) when he played for the A’s in their first year in Kansas City. He was traded to the Yankees in 1959, and in 1961, he often shared the outfield with Mantle and Maris as they chased Babe Ruth. Lopez played in five World Series with the Yankees (1960-1964).]
Game 4: Rays 8, Dodgers 7. The first three games had not felt close. Game 4 would be different and make the 2020 World Series memorable.
There were six home runs in the game, two of historical note. In the 3rd inning, Corey Seager of the Dodgers hit his 8th homer of this postseason, tying the record matched the previous day by Arozarena. Seager’s sharing of the record was good for only one inning. In the 4th, Arozarena hit his 9th homer of the postseason, passing Seager and the others to establish a new record.
The game went back and forth, but every time the Dodgers finished their top half of the inning, they were in the lead. All nine innings. But then came the bottom of the 9th. Rays behind 7-6. Two on and two out. Brett Phillips stepped up to the plate. Who? Well, Royals fans know him.
Brett came to the Royals in 2018 in the Mike Moustakas trade with Milwaukee. He played sparingly for the Royals, and in August of this season was traded to Tampa Bay. He is a light-hitting outfielder with good speed. He is primarily used as a pinch runner and for late inning defense. He entered Game 4 in the last of the 8th as a pinch runner and stayed in the game to play right field.
With two outs, it was the Rays last chance. Kevin Kiermaier was on second. Randy Arozarena on first. Phillips stepped in for what would be his only plate appearance in the World Series. After falling behind 1-2 in the count, he looped a single to short center that scored Kiermaier to tie the game. But the fun was just starting.
Arozarena was also on the run, and when the center fielder bobbled the ball, Arozarena kept going and rounded third. About half way down the line, he stumbled and somersaulted while the ball was being relayed to the catcher. He jumped up to retreat to third, but then saw that the ball had eluded the catcher. So he switched direction and slid in head-first to score the winning run, joyfully slapping the plate several times.
The Rays exploded out of the dugout to congratulate Phillips who was running around the outfield and playing “airplane.” Check out this set of videos with the call from six announcers in three languages. Also this one showing Arozarena’s tumbling on the third base line.
The nature of the game prompted several email exchanges with friends during the game. One was Bob White who eloquently captured our sentiment in an email sent the next morning:
“A terrific World Series game. The finish, with Brett Phillips in the spotlight, epitomizes why I love baseball. More than any other sport, I would argue, it combines all the aspects of a team sport with an excruciating magnifying glass placed on the individual. In any other team sport there are a million ways to hide the shortcomings of a single player: call time out and take him/her out of the game, change the match ups, double-team, put the ball in someone else’s hands to make the big play, or direct the action away from the weak link.
And then there is the whimsey of baseball destiny. Brett knew he was due to hit 5th in the bottom of the 9th. There was no escaping destiny. A weird and likable kid, career hanging by the slenderest of threads, returns to his home town team and suddenly finds himself in the batter’s box with a World Series game on the line. I will never forget the sight of him doing an “airplane” in the outfield and then being so overcome by emotion that it took him 10-minutes to regain his composure and do his on-field interview. Brett Phillips, BRETT PHILLIPS, will live out his life a World Series hero and local icon.
Couldn’t be happier for him, the Rays and underdogs everywhere.”
Amen. Thank you Bob.
[Logo Trivia: When the expansion Tampa Bay franchise was established in 1998, the team name was going to be the Sting Rays. But a team in Maui had the rights to the name and wanted $35,000 in payment. Too much said the new franchise, so the team opted for the Devil Rays. Team ownership changed in 2006 and, hoping to distance the team from its legacy of losing, dropped “Devil” from the name in 2008. The team also added a sunburst in the logo – for the Sunshine State.]
When “Devil” was dropped, one pundit quipped that it was an “exorcism.” That interpretation was renewed in this tweet after the Rays’ success in Game 4:
Game 5: Dodgers 4, Rays 2. Eagle-eyed Rita noticed that the Rays had different caps for Game 5 – the vintage devil ray had returned. No doubt to sell more World Series souvenirs. Below, Brett Phillips during batting practice the day after he became famous.
Clayton Kershaw returned and won his second game. He also added another connection to Whitey Ford.
First, the Whitey story. Ford started Game 1 of the 1955 World Series between the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson was on third base and bolted for home while Whitey was in his windup. Safe! A pure steal of home as the pitch comes to the plate. One of the most-watched videos in baseball history shows catcher Yogi Berra vehemently disagreeing with the umpire (click here).
Fast forward to 2020. Kershaw on the mound in the 4th inning with his Dodgers leading by one run. Two outs. Men on first and third. Manuel Margot, the man on third, takes a long lead because the infield shift has the third baseman far from the bag. Since Kershaw is a left-hander (like Whitey Ford), his back is to the runner. As Kershaw goes into his routine slow stretch, Margot takes off for home. Kershaw does not see him, but first baseman Max Muncy yells for Kershaw to throw to home. He quickly does and barely gets the sliding Margot (video here).
There has not been a pure steal of home in the World Series since Jackie did it in 1955 (as opposed to the back end of a double steal). It’s rare that anyone tries, but Cardinal fans likely remember when Lonnie Smith (no relation) made the attempt in the 1982 World Series (video here).
With games dominated by home runs and strikeouts, I salute Manuel Margot for adding this moment to the 2020 Series. Vin Scully, who witnessed Jackie stealing home in 1955, also gave a shout-out to Margot (video of Vin here).
Monday, October 26: Travel day. Kidding. Staying in the bubble. There were no breaks in the first three rounds of the playoffs, but two days were skipped in the Series, matching the traditional 2-3-2 home and away schedule.
On this date 35 years ago, the Royals won Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. I was seated on the third base side and did not have a good view of the Don Denkinger call at first base. But I remember being very happy. This might not be a good time to mention that Randy Arozarena was traded by the Cardinals to Tampa Bay. It’s fun to kid our cross-state rivals, but the Cards have won 11 World Series, more than any team except the Yankees (27). They will be back.
Game 6: Dodgers 3, Rays 1. In the first inning, Randy Arozarena hit his 10th postseason home run. It was the only score for the Rays in the game. As for the Dodgers, it was Mookie, as noted at the beginning of this post.
[Royals Trivia: Game 6 of the 2020 Series was played on October 27. Good date in Royals history. In 1985, it was the day of Game 7 when the Royals beat the Cardinals 11-0 to win the Series. In 2015, it was the day the Royals beat the Mets in Game 1 after Alex Gordon forced the game into extra innings with his iconic 9th inning homer. The Royals won in the 14th.]
The Dodgers Deserved to Win: I was rooting for the Rays because they have never won a World Series. But I can’t complain about the Dodgers. They had not won a Series since 1988. They have won the NL West the last eight years.
During the playoffs in the last five postseasons, the Dodgers…
2016: lost in the NLCS to the Cubs, who won the World Series
2017: lost to the Astros in the World Series
2018: lost to the Red Sox in the World Series
2019: lost in the NLDS to the Nationals, who won the World Series
2020: won the World Series!
Randy Arozarena: The breakout star of the postseason was Randy Arozarena. His prior major league experience was a total of 99 plate appearances in short stints with the Cardinals (2019) and the Rays (2020). Because he has so few at bats in the regular season, he will still be eligible to be Rookie of the Year in 2021. Not bad for a guy who was the MVP of the ALCS and owns several records for a postseason: hits (29; old record was 26); total bases (64; old record was 50); and home runs (10; old record was 8). Looking forward to seeing what he does in a full season.
Bonus Clip: Dance battle between Randy Arozarena and Brett Phillips. Click here.
Pandemic Factor: COVID-19 is relentless. It was big news both at the beginning and end of the MLB season. After several Marlins and Cardinals tested positive early in the 60-game season, there was a worry that the experiment would fail. But the league got its act together and there were few incidents the rest of the season. Then came Justin Turner’s removal from Game 6 and his boneheaded post-game actions that overshadowed the glow of Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw and Series MVP Corey Seager. It’s not going to just go away. Mask up!
Lonnie’s Jukebox – TikTok and Fleetwood Mac: If you watched any of the World Series, you saw the TikTok ad. It shows a guy on a skateboard drinking Ocean Spray cran-raspberry juice and lip-synching Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Dreams.” The video had gone viral on TikTok and created new exposure for Ocean Spray and Fleetwood Mac. Check out this link for the details on how the ad came together.
This was all good news for Fleetwood Mac. “Dreams” shot to #1 on iTunes and the band had its best week ever streaming. So looks like a good time to play some tracks from their blockbuster album Rumours.
Coming up this weekend (and then Tuesday):
From Seattle Star, November 2, 1918:
Prediction: Biden gets 350+ electoral votes.