Dodgers shed ‘chokers’ tag

Dodgers shed ‘chokers’ tag

ARLINGTON (Texas) • As far as championship droughts go, this was not the longest in Major League Baseball’s (MLB) history or even the most agonising.

But in terms of recent effort, including nearly US$2 billion (S$2.73 billion) spent on player salaries in the past eight years, and the frustration of being tantalisingly close to that celebratory sip of champagne without actually tasting it, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ dry spell had become the most prominent – and baffling – in the sport.

They won seven straight divisional titles without winning the World Series. They made it to the 2017 World Series, only to lose at home to a Houston Astros team who would later be exposed as cheats.

The next year, they lost at home again, to a Boston Red Sox side led by Mookie Betts, now roaming the outfield for Los Angeles.

But on their eighth consecutive trip to the postseason, the Dodgers finally became champions, again.

They beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday at Globe Life Field as Betts hit a double and a home run, and scored twice to help the storied franchise end 32 years of disappointment.

It was the seventh title for the Dodgers, their sixth since moving to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, and the first for Dave Roberts as a manager.

The steady Roberts became only the third skipper to win a World Series with the Dodgers, joining Hall of Famers Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda.

When Game 6 ended and all the pressure that had built up on this core group of players was finally released, they exploded out of the dugout and onto the field to celebrate, knowing that they would no longer be labelled as underachievers and chokers.

“To know what it feels like to lose,” said Corey Seager, who was named the World Series’ Most Valuable Player. “To be able to rebuild and come back and rebuild and stay focused, it’s special.”

The victory should help make up for the perceived injustice of 2017, when the Dodgers lost Game 7 to the Astros, a team who illicitly stole signs that year and admitted to the scheme after an investigation by MLB last year.

The title also should soothe the pain inflicted in 2018 and last year, when they were bounced out of the play-offs – once again at home – in the first round by eventual champions, the Washington Nationals.

This time was different: a postseason of unusual circumstances, the team sequestered for weeks in a play-off bubble in Texas, the players separated from their extended families and friends because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The impact of the contagion even overshadowed the celebrations, as it emerged that Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner had been removed from the game before the top of the eighth because he had received a positive test result for the coronavirus.

He was unable to celebrate with his teammates but then returned to the field for a group photo, pulling off his mask, after they clinched the championship. ESPN later reported that the team would take rapid Covid-19 tests after they returned to their hotel rooms.

But through all their postseason games, the Dodgers made Globe Life Field their own.

They played 16 postseason games there and hit more home runs (29) in the new stadium than did the usual residents, the Texas Rangers, who hit just 27 in their 30 games there this season.

The championship reflected the Dodgers’ dedication and commitment, but it also helped that they had Betts, whom they acquired from Boston in a trade in February.

“I was traded for this reason,” the right-fielder said. “I’m proud of myself and proud of the guys for accomplishing it.”

It took a little longer than expected, but Roberts sensed their time had come. “I had a crazy feeling that came to fruition,” he said. “I just knew that we weren’t going to be denied this year.”