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World Series: What is in the future for the Rays if they win?
Sports Pulse: If the Rays win the World Series, could they be looking for a new home?
It would be folly to suggest that the ghosts of playoffs past returned to haunt the Los Angeles Dodgers as Game 4 of the World Series lurched to a stunning conclusion Saturday night.
And it’s easy to nod along with the Dodgers and note that they played well, made one bad pitch and two egregious misplays at the end and that it is the resilient and talented and opportunistic Tampa Bay Rays who beat them, and not some cosmic chain that connects their playoff gut-punches of 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 – all the way back to 2013.
Sure, this Series-turning, one-strike-away, 7-6 walk-off loss to the Rays that squared the Fall Classic at two games apiece was just baseball, brilliant and heart-stopping baseball that took a turn for the unprecedented at the end, as it so often does.
And then you consider that the game ended when Dodgers catcher Will Smith tried to slap a tag on a man who wasn’t there.
It is a gruesome and galling way to go down, Kenley Jansen getting walked off in the playoffs once again, a broken-bat dying quail keying the Rays’ rally to stay alive, a rare misplay from the Dodgers’ highly versatile and always valuable Chris Taylor, who booted Brett Phillips’ RBI single that should have only tied the game 6-6.
In the dugout, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts – whose maneuverings largely blew up on this night – was already pondering what’s ahead: On-deck batter Austin Meadows, followed by extra-innings, followed by a Dodger victory and a chance for Clayton Kershaw to clinch a championship Sunday.
“We were one strike away,” Roberts said of his mental state that spilled out in a reaction deftly captured by a Fox Sports camera. “There was a flare there and Meadows is coming up and I’m thinking to the 10th inning.
“It just kind of spun out. I wasn’t really prepared for a walk-off in that situation.”
Nor was Smith prepared for anything but a swipe tag on the great Arozarena, who Jansen wisely pitched around and who steamed hard from first on Phillips’ bloop single and broke for home, victory in his eyes.
Yet Arozarena, unbeknownst to Smith, stumbled halfway home, proving to those watching his record-setting power binge in these playoffs that he’s fallible, and providing the Dodgers a trap door to escape this inning.
Smith, as far as we know, never saw Arozarena stumble; he was not made available to news media after the game.
“Will wouldn’t have had any idea Randy fell down there” says Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who hit a first-inning homer for the second consecutive game. “If he’d known he’d fell, he probably would have taken his time, started a rundown.
“Not sure what happened in center, CT looking up to see if Randy was going first to third or not, but yeah, that’s uncharacteristic for us.”
The misplays, sure. The heartbreak and second-guessing? They come with autumn’s dead leaves.
Jansen knows this too well, from the two-inning save he was asked to get in Game 1 of the 2017 World Series against the Houston Astros, to the walk-off loss he took in Game 5, amid the hysteria and subterfuge of Minute Maid Park.
A year later, it was a solo home run to Boston’s Steve Pearce to blow an eighth-inning lead in Game 4 of the ’18 Series.
Jansen knows October failure, and he knows when he’s been beat badly. So even though he ultimately succumbed when a cutter tailed back to the heart of the plate and Phillips – who had just three hits for the Rays this year and seven overall – he could not get past Kevin Kiermaier’s shattered-bat bloop that just eluded second baseman Kike’ Hernandez.
“I just totally broke Kiermaier’s bat. And with Phillips, another grenade single. You can’t beat yourself (up) there,” says Jansen, second to Mariano Rivera on baseball’s postseason saves list.
“You gotta stay positive. I gave up one hard hit. What can I do? Threw the pitches where I wanted to. Broken-bat single, bloop single. Ain’t no time to hang our heads.”
Roberts, too, must turn the page after he made yet another highly-debated managerial move. This time, it was turning to veteran righty Pedro Baez in the sixth inning to retire lefty Brandon Lowe, who’d homered twice in Game 2.
Baez’s changeup was death on lefty hitters in the regular season. For some reason, he shook off Smith and threw a fastball to Lowe, who rode it out to left field for a three-run homer that gave the Rays their first lead, 5-4.
Burned once, Roberts said he indicated to Baez he would lift him after the sixth. He changed his mind after Joc Pederson’s two-run single put the Dodgers back up, 6-5.
“Next inning, I take blame for having him go back out,” says Roberts. “To ask him to go back out – he said he felt good. I should have kept him burning a bit. In that run of hitters, I felt good with Pedro.”
So why change your mind?
“We took the lead, and I felt better.”
So did Kiermaier, who slammed a Baez pitch 426 feet to right field, tying the game again before Corey Seager’s eighth-inning single set the stage for the ninth-inning drama.
Should the Dodgers lose this series – and with another sketchy bullpen game on tap for a now-assured Game 6, that’s a real possibility – the chain of events in Game 4 may create the biggest ulcers in this eight-year playoff run that’s produced zero titles.
It’s a best-of-three series now.
“Like we said all along,” says Turner, “this isn’t going to be easy.”
And the Dodgers just made it a lot harder on themselves.