For more than a decade, across multiple front office regimes, multiple scouting departments, even multiple ownership groups, the Dodgers steadily amassed a collection of homegrown talent that made them the envy of Major League Baseball.
Clayton Kershaw. Kenley Jansen. Joc Pederson. Corey Seager. Julio Urias. Cody Bellinger. Walker Buehler. All were originally signed and developed by the Dodgers. All formed the core of a perennial power that found itself among baseball’s best teams year in and year out.
And that’s to say nothing of Pedro Baez, Will Smith, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Edwin Rios, Matt Beaty and Victor Gonzalez, more homegrown talents that helped the rich get richer. Or Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, Kikè Hernandez and Austin Barnes, who all began their careers elsewhere but reached new heights in Los Angeles after joining the Dodgers.
On Tuesday evening in Arlington, Texas, the culmination of those efforts arrived as the Dodgers, finally, reached baseball’s pinnacle.
Mookie Betts hit a double and a home run, seven pitchers combined for 16 strikeouts and the Dodgers beat the Rays 3-1 in Game 6 of the World Series, giving the franchise its first championship since 1988.
The victory marked the end of nearly a decade of postseason disappointments for the Dodgers, who capped their run of eight straight division titles with the World Series title that eluded them for so long.
“I’ve been saying World Series champs in my head over and over again to see if it will sink in,” said Kershaw, the Dodgers longest-tenured player who, fairly or not, had come to symbolize their postseason shortcomings. “I can’t put it into words yet. I’m just so very thankful to be a part of this group of guys and so very thankful that we get to be the team that is bringing a World Series back to Dodger fans after 32 years. They’ve waited a long time, and to be the team to get to do that in L.A., you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Fourteen of the 28 players on the Dodgers’ World Series roster were homegrown. Fittingly, many played starring roles.
Kershaw went 2-0, 2.31 with 14 strikeouts in 11.2 innings in his two World Series starts to throw off the weight of his previous postseason failings. Seager hit .400 (8-for-20) with two home runs and five RBIs and was named World Series MVP. Buehler fired six dominant innings with one run allowed and 10 strikeouts in his lone outing. Pederson went 4-for-10 with a critical home run in Game 5. And Urias, the one-time wunderkind prospect who came back from a devastating shoulder injury, finished off Game 6 with 2.1 scoreless innings, including a strikeout of Willy Adames for the final out to secure the Dodgers championship.
“It’s what hit me right in the final out, just the number of fingerprints all over the success of this team,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “You go across every department in our baseball operations group and they all have a hand in this roster. Again, we’ve been through a lot of adversity in years past and for us to continue to try to figure out ways to try to improve and get better speaks to the group that we have.”
None of it was easy. The Dodgers fought back from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS against the Braves and found themselves tied 2-2 with the Rays in the World Series after a devastating Game 4 loss. But as they did all year in amassing MLB’s best record during the pandemic-shortened season, they found a way to come out on top.
It began in Game 5 when they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first two innings and never trailed to regain control of the series. In Game 6, they finally got the break they always seemed to be on the wrong side of in previous postseasons.
Rays lefthander Blake Snell had his way against the Dodgers for the first 5.1 innings. He struck out nine of the first 13 batters he faced, allowed only two hits—both singles—and didn’t walk anyone as he maintained an early 1-0 Rays lead. He had thrown only 73 pitches after allowing a single to Barnes with one out in the sixth, and showed no decline in stuff with his fastball continuing to sit comfortably in the mid 90s and his curveball, slider and changeup all working in the strike zone.
Rays manager Kevin Cash, wary of letting Snell face the Dodgers a third time through the order, emerged from the dugout and pulled his ace immediately after Barnes’ single. Snell, incredulous, screamed an expletive upon seeing his manager approach. Betts, standing in the on-deck circle, looked at manager Dave Roberts in the dugout and smiled.
After retiring 16 of the 18 batters he faced, Snell was gone from the game.
“It was kind of like a sigh of relief,” Betts said. “Had he stayed in the game he may have pitched a complete game. …He was rolling. He was pitching really, really well. That’s the Cy Young Snell that came tonight. So, once he came out of the game, it was just a breath of fresh air.”
Said Roberts: “I was pretty happy because he was dominating us and we just weren’t seeing him…We were all just kind of excited that Snell was out of the game.”
After years of questionable pitching decisions backfiring on them, the Dodgers were finally the beneficiary of such a decision.
Cash replaced Snell with Nick Anderson, who had allowed a run in six consecutive appearances. Betts immediately greeted Anderson with a double down the left-field line as Barnes motored to third. Anderson uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Barnes to come home and tie the score. Seager followed with a chopper to first base, and Betts raced home to beat the throw and give the Dodgers their first lead.
The Dodgers, scoreless and largely helpless against Snell for 5.1 innings, took the lead with Anderson on the mound in just two batters.
“The hardest thing for me is I was rolling,” Snell said of being pulled. “I was in a groove. I just really felt dominant. I felt like I had them guessing. It’s just tough for me. It’s going to be tough for me for a while to accept that and accept losing the World Series.”
Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, the team’s longest tenured player, spoke more forcefully against the decision.
“It was Blake’s game. He was dominating,” Kiermaier said. “I don’t really care what the numbers say. Third time through the order or whatever. There wasn’t many guys making contact in general and no hard contact whatsoever…He threw the ball great. That might’ve been the best I’ve seen him. It was incredible.”
Cash acknowledged the criticism, but said he would make the same move in that situation again.
“I guess I regret it because it didn’t work out, but I feel like the thought process was right,” Cash said. “Every decision that’s made, that end result has a pretty weighing factor in how you feel about it.
“If we had to do it over again, I would have the utmost confidence in Nick Anderson to get through that inning.”
The Dodgers, for their part, made clear they would happily welcome that decision again.
“He had us off balance. He made pitches. We grinded, we battled and we didn’t really have an answer for him,” Seager said. “Once he kind of came out, it uplifted us a little bit for sure.”
Betts added a solo home run in the eighth to provide insurance, but the Dodgers bullpen didn’t even really need it. After Gonsolin lasted only 1.2 innings in his start, Dodgers relievers combined to throw 7.1 scoreless innings with two hits allowed, no walks and 12 strikeouts. Gonzalez picked up the win with 1.1 scoreless innings and three strikeouts. Urias got the save by retiring the final seven batters of the game, four via strikeout. Both were signed out of Mexico after the same scouting trip in 2012 by legendary scout Mike Brito, another feather in the cap for the Dodgers scouting and player development.
“The Dodgers are a famous team in Mexico and you’re familiar with the team and what it means to have that blue on,” Urias said through an interpreter while wrapped in a Mexican flag. “I’m just happy for my teammates and I’m happy that we were able to achieve it.”
In the end, the Dodgers did just about everything right. They developed a stunning core of homegrown talent. They found under-the-radar players who they unlocked improved performance in. They made trades to acquire major stars to push them over the top, most recently and notably with Betts.
They outhit, outscored and outhomered the Rays in the series. Their pitchers had more strikeouts, fewer walks and an ERA nearly two runs lower. They were the best team in baseball all season, and played like it on baseball’s brightest stage.
And now, because of that, they’re finally World Series champions.
“This is what we’ve worked for our whole lives,” Kershaw said. “We completed our mission.”