All Ball Sports: A new champ in town. And a new superstar
by Paul Teetor
The Dodgers are world champions again – finally.
Manager Dave Roberts deserved this World Series title even more than his players. More than Corey Seager, the official MVP who consistently hit the ball like Babe Ruth with eight postseason home runs. More than Mookie Betts, the unofficial MVP who changed the team’s personality every day in every way. And more even than Clayton Kershaw, the sentimental MVP who racked up two of the four wins and forever shed the postseason loser label that was threatening to follow him for the rest of his otherwise charmed life.
After five weeks – hell, make that after five years – of being criticized and second-guessed about every pitching decision he made, Roberts was the grateful beneficiary when Tampa Bay Manager Kevin Cash made the most bone-headed pitching decision in recent World series history.
Roberts had designated rookie pitcher Tony Gonsolin to start game 6 while his ace, Walker Buehler, was kept in reserve for game 7 in case they lost game 6. Cash, meanwhile designated his ace, former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, to start game 6 and he’d worry about who to pitch in game 7 if and when he came to that bridge.
Gonsolin gave up a first inning home run to the Rays’ sensational rookie Randy Arozarena to stake Tampa Bay to a 1-0 lead. They maintained that lead for five and two thirds innings because Snell was pitching lights-out ball, with nine strikeouts and only two hits. He absolutely dominated the Dodgers hitters until light-hitting catcher Austin Barnes cracked a 2-out single in the top of the sixth inning.
No sweat for the Rays, right? Snell was rolling along and was the surest thing the Rays had on hand. Then, inexplicably, Cash came flying out of the dugout with the clear intention to pull his ace.
“When I saw him coming out of the dugout, I started hoping he would pull Snell,” Roberts said. “He was having his way with us.”
Snell’s body language screamed “don’t do this” even before Cash got to the mound. But it was clear Cash’s mind was made up and an angry Snell handed him the ball and stomped off to the Rays’ dugout, where he later chewed Cash’s ear off about what a mistake this was.
As Mookie Betts noted moments after the game ended with a 3-1 Dodgers win, the Dodgers hitters were thrilled Cash had completely changed the dynamic of the game with one crazy decision.
“I’m not sure why Snell was taken out, but I wasn’t going to ask any questions,” Mookie said with a huge smile on his face.
An ecstatic Cody Bellinger agreed.
“I was shocked Snell got pulled,” he said. “He was on his A game so it made me very happy.”
What followed after reliever Nick Anderson took the mound was so predictable it was like Roberts had written the script to get his karmic revenge on all those who had criticized his sometimes-sketchy decisions for so long.
Mookie Betts immediately slammed a double down the left field line that sent
Barnes to third base. That was followed by a run-scoring wild pitch and a run-scoring grounder that gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead that they never lost. Betts homered in the 8th inning for an insurance run that provided the final 3-1 margin.
And after going through six pitchers, Roberts handed the ball to flame-throwing Julio Arias, who mowed down all 7 batters he faced.
That’s one decision Dodgers fans will never second-guess.
The game 6 win over the Rays set off a wild celebration at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas and here in LA. But the truth is that it was the incredible 4-3 National League Championship series win over the Atlanta Braves that will linger in Dodgers’ fan’s memories, much like Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run in the 1988 World Series.
Coming back from a 3-1 deficit was amazing enough. But the game-saving defensive plays by Betts and Bellinger, and the monster, game winning home run by Bellinger late in game 7 were the enduring images that will last forever.
And with 2020 being the strangest year in baseball history and perhaps the worst year in the history of the modern world, there was one last twist that somehow seemed both appropriate and inevitable: third baseman Justin Turner, who was right behind Seager in terms of slugging home runs throughout October, missed his last turn at bat in the 7th inning because the Dodgers were informed he had tested positive for Covid-19.
A half-hour later he joined his teammates on the field in a wild celebration.
And yes, he was wearing a mask.
The verdict is in: Justin Herbert is a star, headed for superstardom
In sports, as in music, literature and film, the great ones announce themselves early. Whether it’s Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson, Ernest Hemingway or Steven Spielberg they get noticed very early in their career and they do work that in hindsight can be seen as foreshadowing their future greatness.
Granted, it’s way early and much can go wrong, but as of now the Charger’s rookie quarterback Justin Herbert is looking like a great one who is announcing his greatness early.
Any quarterback who makes it onto the field in a regular season NFL game is capable of having a great game on any given Sunday. But Herbert has had a great game, every game, in his first five games. His premature arrival may have been overlooked by the national media because the bungling Chargers lost his first four starts – two in overtime — and fell to a 1-4 record to quickly occupy their usual spot at the bottom of the NFC West standings.
But Sunday afternoon he removed any doubt about his special status by leading LA to a 39-29 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of another empty So-Fi Stadium. In the process he passed for 374 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Trouble is, throwing for more than 300 yards has already become routine for him.
What was truly amazing about this game was that he also led his team in rushing with 66 yards in 9 carries, including a 5-yard burst for a TD when he lunged over the goal line after freezing the nearest tackler with a pass fake that gave him the slight opening he needed to score.
He also had a 31-yard run – the longest by a Chargers QB since 1988 – and jaunts of 12 and 14 yards. So much for the early criticism that he was only a stay-in-the-pocket QB without the mobility needed to flourish in the modern NFL game built around quarterback run/pass/option plays.
Just as impressive was the way his teammates rallied around him. One of the knocks on the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Herbert after a stellar 4-year career at Oregon was that he was too much of an introvert to provide the kind of leadership needed at the game’s highest level. But Sunday’s game proved that was talk radio crazy chatter. All you had to do was watch how his teammates buzzed around him as he sat calmly on the bench while waiting to go back on the field. Pro football players know the difference between rah-rah BS and the kind of quiet “I got this” confidence consistently displayed by Herbert. And they like being around him, hoping some of it will rub off on them.
Even Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, who had been reluctant to place too much of the offensive burden on his talented rookie’s shoulders, removed the training wheels Sunday and started using the nuclear bomb that Herbert gives him. Now Lynn is smart enough to build the offense around Herbert’s passing ability and to counter with the run game when the defense has to deploy six or seven defensive backs to try to stop Herbert.
“The skill and the physical part of this, we knew that he had that,” Lynn said after the game. “I’m excited about the way he’s growing mentally and how his team is responding to him as a young leader.”
As the 2-4 Chargers try to keep winning and get back in the playoff race, they need to surround Herbert with more offensive weapons. Right now, only wide receiver Keenan Allen is on his elite talent level. But if the Spanos family that owns the Chargers decides to loosen the purse strings, anything can happen in terms of acquiring personnel.
The most urgent needs: another top-end receiver to take the pressure off Allen, and a tough-yards running back to replace, and eventually complement, the talented-but-often-injured Austin Ekeler.
The Chargers have 10 games remaining: Denver twice, Las Vegas twice, Miami, the sad-sack New York Jets, resurgent Buffalo, lost-without-Tom-Brady New England, hopeless Atlanta and Super Bowl champs Kansas City.
With Herbert assuming the team’s controls and the continued QB demolition by the best pair of defensive ends in the league in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, only the Kansas City game looks out of reach, and only the New York and Atlanta games appear to be locks. The rest are eminently winnable – or losable.
If they make the playoffs, the Chargers will be announcing themselves early.
Already Herbert has thrown for 12 TD’s with just three interceptions for a 108 Quarterback Rating. Statistically, that puts him in the top 5 of the league with stars like Pat Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.
The sky’s the limit for this kid.
Rams Back on Track
The Rams played their best game of the season Monday night while suffocating a 5-1 Chicago Bears team 24-10. QB Jared Goff was crisp and efficient in completing 23 of 33 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. The defense led by future Hall-of-Famer Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, the best cornerback in the league, was frightening in its total domination of Bears QB Nick Foles and the rest of the Chicago offense.
For the first time in a long time, the Rams resembled the 2018 Rams team that went to the Super Bowl before losing to the New England Patriots. The difference is that former superstar Todd Gurley is gone to Atlanta while new running back Malcolm Brown averaged over 5 yards a carry, taking a lot of defensive pressure off Goff and freeing him up to run Coach Sean McVay’s razzle-dazzle offense built around a fast tempo and plenty of mis-direction. At 5-2 the Rams are well positioned to make a run at the playoffs that they missed last season with a 9-7 record. Next up: at the Miami Dolphins.
Design note: So-Fi Stadium is a magnificent structure whose $5.5 billion price tag is reflected everywhere you look. But the so-called “Showtime Cam” at the back of the end zone is a terrible idea. Now after every touchdown – or goal line defensive stand — a bunch of hopped-up, look-at-me players run up to the Cam and mug for it, posing for a group selfie. Just what we need: more displays of narcissism from the players.
Contact: email@example.com. Follow: @paulteetor
by Kevin Cody
Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com