World Series celebration turns ugly in some parts of Los Angeles after Dodgers’ victory

LOS ANGELES — Police officers fired non-lethal ammunition Tuesday night during a downtown Los Angeles Dodgers’ World Series celebration marred by vandalism, looting and a dumpster fire.

Dodgers fans across Southern California rejoiced after the team won its first World Series title in 32 years, and hundreds of revelers downtown proved to be among the rowdiest.

Cars peeled out and turned donuts in the streets. People set off illegal fireworks.

And at about midnight, things went from rowdy to ominous as a dumpster was set on fire near a high-rise building. A firetruck arrived about 10 minutes later, along with dozens of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers wearing riot helmets.

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A man walks past a dumpster fire as Dodgers fans celebrate the team's World Series in Los Angeles. (Photo: Josh Peter, USA TODAY Sports)

The sound of stun grenades echoed through downtown as officers marched in a single file line at least 12 across.

The crowd dispersedbut there was still evidence of trouble mere blocks away.

A plate glass window at First Republic Bank had been shattered, as had a front window of a Reliant Urgent Care. Nearby, four officers with guns drawn responded to a report of looting at a Smart & Final grocery store.

A window is shattered at a First Republic Bank in Los Angeles during the celebration of the Dodgers' World Series victory. (Photo: Josh Peter, USA TODAY Sports)

Nelson Quevedo, an employee working the overnight shift at the grocery store, said a couple of people broke into the store. A glass panel lay shattered near the store's entrance.

Quevedo said he was working the overnight shift with two other employees when he saw a couple of people enter the store. He said he thought looters took alcohol and left when they realized employees were in the store. But policemen entered the store and looked around just in case.

About five minutes later, the officers returned. No looters on the premises.

“It’s going to be like this all night,’’ an officer told the employees, ‘’so just be careful.’’

Baseball fans celebrate downtown after the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series over the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo: Ashley Landis, AP)

Arthur Daghbash stood outside the apartment where he lives and watched the chaos.

Of the police, he said, “They’re doing their job and they’re doing a great job. This isn’t a celebration. We don’t celebrate victories like this.’’

In Echo Park, a neighborhood near Dodger Stadium, freelance journalist Lexis-Olivier Ray reported that LAPD officers “turned their weapons on a small group of press and community members.’’ He posted video of the alleged attack on his Twitter account.

A group of LAPD officers just broke my camera mic, tackled me to the ground and beat me with their batons, after I identified myself as a journalist multiple times.

Photojournalists @bfeinzimer and @chrismatography document LAPD advancing their skirmish lines on Olympic and Hope as a firework explodes.

Earlier in the night, there was also a tense moment in East Los Angeles, an area heavily populated with Mexicans and other Spanish-speaking residents. A throng of revelers refused to leave a streets near the corner of Whittier Blvd. and Atlantic Blvd., the site of previous celebrations.

Through a bullhorn, a member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office wearing a riot helmet announced the group had one minute to clear the street.

But many of the revelers stayed in the streets and the celebration proceeded peacefully. At one point, more than a dozen people were line dancing amid chants of “Let’s go Dodgers’’ as blasts of fireworks filled the air.

“They listened enough,’’ Sgt. Levi Belville of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said. “We didn’t want to ruin anybody’s party.’’

At Dodger Stadium, about 1,000 cars were in two parking lots for a drive-in watch party. After the final out, a cacophony of honking horns filled the air.

A few minutes later, Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.’’ blared from the back of Wes Sarno’s SUV, where he stood with his three children.

Sarno, 40, said his children requested he play the song, and he noted he was 8 when the Dodgers won their last World Series title, in 1988.

“Fell in love the Dodgers right at that moment,’’ he said, “and I’m so glad my kids are able to enjoy this experience.’’

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Seager named MVP as Dodgers finally clinch title

    Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for

ARLINGTON — They might have gotten a little help from the opposing manager in Game 6, but the Los Angeles Dodgers finally won their World Series, the first for the franchise since 1988 and the first in three tries for them over the past four years.

The Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 on Tuesday night behind a stellar effort from their bullpen, with six relievers combining for an eight-inning shutout after starter Tony Gonsolin allowed a solo home run to Rays rookie sensation Randy Arozarena in the first.

Corey Seager hit a rare October double, becoming Most Valuable Player of the World Series after earning the honor for the League Championship Series. Just as Orel Hershiser did when the Dodgers won their previous World Series title in 1988.

The Dodgers trailed early in Game 6 and were doing very little on offense up until the sixth inning, when Rays manager Kevin Cash inexplicably pulled starter Blake Snell while the lefty was pitching a gem. Snell had struck out nine batters while giving up two hits, including one to Austin Barnes before being pulled. Reliever Nick Anderson came into the game and immediately gave up a double to Mookie Betts, a run-scoring wild pitch and a run-scoring groundout, erasing the deficit and giving the Dodgers their first lead of the game.

Arozarena’s homer was the 10th of this postseason, but it wasn’t enough for the Rays, who managed just four hits the rest of the game. The Dodgers also had five hits on the night, including a home run by Betts in the eighth to extend the Dodgers’ lead.

Julio Urias pitched the final 2.1 innings for the save.

It’s the seventh championship for the Dodgers, who have won their division for eight consecutive years. The Dodgers posted the best record in the majors during this pandemic-shortened season. They had a scare against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series, going down 3-1 in the series before winning three straight games to capture the NL pennant.

Longtime Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully, who retired in 2016 following a 67-year career, tweeted his congratulations to the team.

Seager batted .400 with two homers, five RBIs and six walks against the Rays, including a sixth-inning grounder that allowed Betts to speed home from third base with the go-ahead run. The star shortstop jumped into the arms of second baseman Kike Hernandez after Urias struck out Willy Adames to clinch the championship.

Seager hit .310 with five homers and 11 RBIs in the seven-game win over Atlanta in the NLCS, including three homers as the Dodgers fought off elimination in Games 5 and 6. He drove in runs in five consecutive plate appearances, starting with his last two at-bats in Game 2, matching a feat that had been accomplished only by Houston’s Carlos Beltran in 2004.

The previous MVP of both a League Championship Series and the World Series in the same year was San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner in 2014. Only eight players have done it — all National Leaguers.

Manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers lost the World Series in 2017 and ’18 before winning this title at a neutral site, Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The Rays have played in two World Series, this season and in 2008, losing both times.

About 2 1/2 weeks after the Lakers won the NBA title while finishing their season in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, the Dodgers gave Los Angeles another championship in this year when the coronavirus pandemic has delayed, shortened and moved around sports seasons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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How to watch Dodgers vs. Rays: World Series Game 6 live stream, schedule, TV channel, start time

The Los Angeles Dodgers are one win away from their first World Series title since 1988.

Tuesday is the first of two chances the Dodgers will get to close out the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. If necessary, Game 7 will be played Wednesday.

The Dodgers won 4-2 in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Rays to the brink. Shortstop Corey Seager looks like the favorite for World Series MVP if the Dodgers manage to win. He is 8-for-17 with seven runs, two homers and four RBI through five games.

Here's everything you need to know for Game 6 of the World Series:

Time: 8:08 p.m. ET

TV channel: Fox


Betting odds:

Max Muncy celebrates his Game 5 home ruin with Cody Bellinger. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)

Left-hander Blake Snell (postseason: 3.33 ERA, 28 K in 24⅓ innings) takes the mound for the Rays in Game 6. The 2018 AL Cy Young winner got a no-decision in Game 2, striking out nine in 4⅔ innings and hasn't been able to get through the sixth inning in any of his five starts in the playoffs.

The Dodgers will begin Game 6 with Tony Gonsolin (postseason: 8 ER in 7 ⅔ innings), but don't expect him to pitch very long. The right-hander took the loss in Game 2, giving up one earned run in 1 ⅓ innings.

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Attempted steal of home ‘100%’ Margot’s decision

    Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for

ARLINGTON, Texas — It had a chance to change the game and make history, but Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Manny Margot’s attempted steal of home in the bottom of the fourth inning of Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night fell short, as he was tagged out just before getting his hand in safely.

The run would have tied the score at 3, but instead, the out ended the inning and the Los Angeles Dodgers went on to win the game 4-2.

“I thought I was really close,” Margot said through an interpreter afterward. “I really didn’t know where they touched me. They didn’t challenge.”

Replays showed Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes barely getting the tag down on Margot’s left hand after pitcher Clayton Kershaw stepped off the rubber and fired home, though the throw was a bit outside. Margot had been taking huge leads throughout the entire sequence after reaching third base with no outs. But he was still there with two down before attempting the dramatic play.

“It was 100 percent my decision,” Margot said. “I thought it was a good idea at the time. I had a pretty good chance of being safe.

“From the first pitch to KK [Kevin Kiermaier], I knew they weren’t paying too much attention to me, so I thought I had a chance. Obviously it didn’t work out that way.”

Kiermaier was at the plate with two outs and two on after Margot walked and stole second, reaching third on an error by second baseman Chris Taylor. Hunter Renfroe followed with a walk, but Joey Wendle popped up and Willy Adames struck out, setting the stage for the attempted steal.

“I was a little surprised,” Kiermaier said. “It was a gutsy move and it didn’t work out that time. Manny is a great baserunner. He’s not afraid to take risks. I didn’t have a problem with it. … It takes a lot of guts to sit here and try that in the World Series. It just didn’t work out.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash was more annoyed by the fact that Margot was still on third base after getting there with no outs. Since it wasn’t a planned play, Renfroe didn’t take off from first base, which could have distracted the left-handed Kershaw. With his back to Margot, he wasn’t able to pick up the steal attempt until the last second.

“That has happened to me before,” Kershaw said. “I wasn’t really anticipating it, but I have talked to first basemen in the past, [Max] Muncy, I have talked to him about it as well like, ‘Hey, I look at him [initially] but when I come set I don’t really see the runner so you got to yell at me if they start going.’ And he was yelling at me, step off step off step off. So instinctually I just did it. It was a big out for us right there.”

The last time a player attempted to steal home in a World Series game was in 1982. The last successful straight steal of home in the World Series was in 1955 by Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“I know Kershaw has the high hand set,” Cash said. “I think Manny felt he could just time him up. … I think we try to do things and make decisions and allow players to be athletic. If Manny felt he had a read on it, for whatever reason, it’s tough for me to say yes or no, just because he’s a talented baserunner. He might be seeing something I’m not or can’t appreciate in the moment right there.”

Cash called the entire inning “frustrating,” and was asked if in a perfect world Renfroe would have taken off from first to help create chaos.

“In a perfect world he’s safe,” the Rays manager said with a smirk.

The Dodgers lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 on Tuesday.

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Clayton Kershaw’s real postseason problem? The second start of a series

  • Senior writer of SweetSpot baseball blog
  • Former deputy editor of Page 2
  • Been with since 1995

The narrative winds itself through every October, the constant that connects each postseason to the previous one for the past eight years, with many of the horrifying twists and turns of a Stephen King novel. Will Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, finally get to celebrate a World Series title with his teammates?

Kershaw is back on the mound for Sunday’s Game 5 with a chance to put the Los Angeles Dodgers back on top after the ultimate gut-punch of a loss Saturday night. He has been effective this postseason, with a 13-strikeout game against the Brewers in the wild-card round and a 2.88 ERA over four starts. His one rough outing was a crucial one, though; in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, he gave up four runs over five innings as L.A. fell to the brink of elimination before rallying to win the final three games. It is perhaps notable that Kershaw did not pitch in any of those three victories. Walker Buehler is now regarded as the Dodgers’ ace, and Kershaw doesn’t have to win every game, as was expected — unfairly — for so many years. He is still one of the most valuable players on the roster, but the Dodgers have many valuable players.

That doesn’t make a Kershaw start any less full of intrigue, however. I suspect even if you’re not a Dodgers fan, you find yourself pulling for Kershaw this time of year. In his career in the regular season, he’s 175-76 with a 2.43 ERA. In his career in the postseason, he’s 12-12 with a 4.22 ERA. I saw a list similar to the one below on a recent broadcast. Since the advent of the wild card in 1995, Kershaw has the fifth-worst postseason ERA among pitchers with at least 70 innings:

David Price: 4.62
Charles Nagy: 4.46
Al Leiter: 4.38
CC Sabathia: 4.28
Clayton Kershaw: 4.22
Zack Greinke: 4.22

That’s out of 36 pitchers. Mariano Rivera tops the list, with Madison Bumgarner second and Curt Schilling third. What makes the above ranking stand out even more, of course, is the difference between that postseason ERA and the player’s career ERA:

Price: +1.31
Nagy: -0.05
Leiter: +0.58
Sabathia: +0.54
Kershaw: +1.79
Greinke: +0.85

Kershaw has been so dominant in the regular season, which has made his results in the playoffs only more frustrating. On top of that, he is held to an impossible standard. He is expected to duplicate the heroic performances of World Series legends such as Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson — who cares if they pitched in a different era and had to pitch in only one series per year — or to match an October run like his contemporary and rival Bumgarner had for the Giants in 2014.

Sunday night’s start will be a big test for Kershaw for another key reason: It’s the first time this postseason he’ll make a second start in a series. I had a theory that most of Kershaw’s postseason struggles have come the second time he faced a team in a series. Before putting theory to paper, I checked the numbers. I went back to 2013, the first postseason Kershaw pitched in after he had become the best pitcher in the game.

First game in a series: 102⅔ IP, 78 H, 44 R, 42 ER, 23 BB, 118 SO, 14 HR, 3.15 ERA
Subsequent appearances: 65⅓ IP, 55 H, 37 R, 34 ER, 16 BB, 72 SO, 11 HR, 5.44 ERA

So the theory holds. Kershaw’s major issues mostly have come the second time around. One thing I’ve heard people say is Kershaw has been pushed hard in the postseason, pitching on three days’ rest at times earlier in this run, plus making several relief appearances along the way. That’s true; he was pushed hard by Don Mattingly and then Dave Roberts. The trouble with that theory is Kershaw actually pitched well on short rest. He has made four starts on three days’ rest, all in Game 4 of a division series and his second start of a series:

2013 NLDS vs. Braves: 6 IP, 0 ER, 6 SO
2014 NLDS vs. Cardinals: 6 IP, 3 ER, 9 SO
2015 NLDS vs. Mets: 7 IP, 1 ER, 8 SO
2016 NLDS vs. Nationals: 6.2 IP, 5 ER, 11 SO

That’s a 3.16 ERA, and even the game against the Nationals is a little misleading. He left in the seventh inning with two outs and the bases loaded, but the bullpen allowed all three runners to score. That was the year he came on to get the final two outs in Game 5 for the save. He then started Game 2 of the NLCS on two days of rest (or four days of rest after his Game 4 start). You know what? He pitched seven scoreless innings against the Cubs. It was his second start of the series, in Game 6, when the Cubs knocked him around for two home runs and five runs in five innings.

So it doesn’t really hold that short rest has hurt Kershaw. Now, sure, maybe there’s a cumulative effect here. Maybe he was gassed by the time he faced the Cubs in Game 6. I keep wondering if seeing Kershaw a second time in short order helps opponents. Part of the mystery of facing Kershaw is he doesn’t look like any other pitcher with that hesitation and his windup and the over-top delivery. Maybe the familiarity of seeing him again a few days later helps — similar to how offensive numbers jump the third time through the order (part of that is pitcher fatigue, but part of that is hitters have seen the pitcher for two at-bats already).

I went back to the 2015 postseason and checked the numbers on starters for their first start in a series and then their second start. This gave a list of 80 pitchers (and 81 second starts, as Corey Kluber started three times in the 2016 World Series).

First start: 444⅓ IP, 344 H, 160 R, 153 ER, 148 BB, 454 SO, 51 HR, 3.12 ERA
Second start: 399⅓ IP, 338 H, 181 R, 168 ER, 138 BB, 434 SO, 61 HR, 3.79 ERA

So, yes, pitchers don’t fare as well the second time in a series. Their average innings pitched goes from 5.6 to 4.9. Their home runs per nine innings goes from 1.03 to 1.37. Their ERA rises 0.67 runs — but Kershaw’s ERA rises 2.29 runs.

It should be noted that Kershaw hasn’t pitched as badly as his ERA suggests. Compare his second-start numbers to the other 81 starts per nine innings:

Kershaw: 7.6 H, 2.2 BB, 9.9 SO, 1.52 HR, 5.44 ERA
Others: 7.6 H, 3.1 BB, 9.8 SO, 1.37 HR, 3.79 ERA

His raw numbers are basically the same as the control group — except the ERA. For whatever reason, his runs in the postseason too often come in crooked numbers or one bad inning.

Anyway, the Dodgers know this. Roberts won’t allow him to go too long, and the Dodgers have plenty of arms in the bullpen. In his four starts this postseason, Kershaw has thrown 93, 87, 87 and 78 pitches. He’ll be pitching on four days of rest. He gave up only two hits in six innings in the Game 1 victory over the Rays. All the signs point to another good start. I hope so.

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Rays’ Arozarena hits postseason-record 9th HR

    Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for

ARLINGTON, Texas — Tampa Bay Rays rookie Randy Arozarena became the first player to hit nine home runs in a single postseason after taking Los Angeles Dodgers starter Julio Urias deep to right field in the fourth inning of Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night.

Arozarena, 25, already owns the rookie hit record for a single postseason, set in Game 3, while breaking a four-way tie for most home runs.

Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager also homered in Game 4 and has eight this postseason.

Arozarena also owns the record for total bases in a single postseason. He singled to lead off the sixth inning Saturday night, tying Pablo Sandoval for most hits by any player in one postseason.

The 2020 playoffs featured an extra round, meaning Arozarena is playing in his 18th playoff game already.

Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran and Barry Bonds are the three other players — along with Seager — to hit eight home runs in a single postseason.

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Turner breaks Dodgers’ career playoff HR mark

  • Joined ESPN in 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams
  • Previously covered the Angels for

ARLINGTON, Texas — Justin Turner launched a first-inning homer for a second consecutive night on Saturday, surpassing Los Angeles Dodgers legend Duke Snider for the most postseason home runs in franchise history.

Turner’s drive to center field off Tampa Bay Rays lefty Ryan Yarbrough in Game 4 of the World Series — coming 24 hours after his drive to left field off righty Charlie Morton in Game 3 — gave him 12 postseason homers for his career and three since Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

Turner, a pending free agent, became the first player ever to hit first-inning home runs in consecutive World Series. The only other players with multiple first-inning homers in the same World Series, regardless of the game, are Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in 2019 and Mickey Hatcher for the 1988 Dodgers.

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Rays offense wakes up in Game 2 to even World Series against Dodgers

ARLINGTON, Texas — Really, you thought the Tampa Bay Rays were going to go quietly into the night?

You thought this World Series was going to be a mismatch?

Well, you sure don’t know this Rays’ team, who showed the Los Angeles Dodgers they plan to hang around for awhile, delivering a powerful message Wednesday with their 6-4 victory, evening the World Series at 1-game apiece.

The Rays’ offense finally awoke with their greatest offensive output in a week. Brandon Lowe started hitting like Randy Arozarena. Blake Snell pitched like a Cy Young winner for the first four innings, and the Rays’ bullpen held onto the lead.

The Rays, who entered the game hitting .190 since the start of the ALCS, failing to score more than four runs in five consecutive games, finally broke out with a 10-hit attack, their biggest in 11 games. It ended a postseason record of hitting .230 or lower in 10 consecutive games.

Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe celebrates his two-run home run with shortstop Willy Adames in the 5th inning. (Photo: Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports)

Just like that, the Rays won their first World Series game in 4,381 days, dating back to Oct. 23, 2008, and still are alive for their first World Series championship in franchise history.

Most encouraging, the Rays enter Thursday’s off-day buoyed with confidence, believing that the MVP of their team in the regular season finally is back.

Lowe had been nothing short of brutal this postseason. He entered the game hitting .133 this postseason, and in a 4-for-52 slump (.077). He had been so bad that Rays manager Kevin Cash spent the bulk of his pre-game zoom call defending why he and Austin Meadows (.117) were still in the starting lineup, let alone hitting in the top of the order.

“I know they’re struggling, we recognize they’re struggling,’’ Cash said. “But better or for worse, we’re going to stick with the guys we believe in.

“For Brandon in particularly, we’re not in it if it weren’t for him. It’s getting amplified because it’s Brandon Lowe and what he did throughout the season.

“We have a number of guys that we need to get hot, and are confident they will.’’

Spoken like a true prophet, Cash sat back and watched Lowe hit two home runs, Meadows collect two hits, and an offense that emerged from their deep sleep.

Lowe became only the second player in history to enter a World Series game hitting below .200 and hitting two home runs, joining Hall of Famer Eddie Murray of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1983 World Series. It was the seventh multi-homer game by a second baseman, last accomplished by Chase Utley for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 World Series.

The Rays, the team that invented the opener, actually beat the Dodgers at their own game, tormenting pitcher after pitcher in the Dodgers’ carousel

It began when Tony Gonsolin pitched just 1 ⅓ innings, departing with a 1-0 deficit. It was the shortest outing by a World Series starter without an injury since Harry Taylor of the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1947 World Series.

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The opener wasn’t invented until 70 years later, but this was just Page 1 of the Dodgers’ playbook. They employed seven pitchers, just two shy of the World Series record last done by the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox in their 18-inning, Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. The Dodgers used four pitchers just to get the first 12 outs, five pitchers to face the first 22 Rays’ hitters, and by the time the game was over, the Rays had scored runs off four different pitchers.

Blake Snell carved up the Dodgers lineup for the first 4 ⅔ innings. He was the first pitcher since Sandy Koufax in 1963 to have eight strikeouts without permitting a hit in the first four innings, but with two outs and no one on in the fifth inning, fell apart.

He walked Kike' Hernandez, which looked innocent enough, and then No. 9 hitter Chris Taylor greeted him with a homer to right field.

Snell faced two more batters, couldn’t retire neither. Rays closer Nick Anderson entered, inheriting a mess with dangerous Justin Turner at the plate. Anderson struck him out. Threat over.

Yet, the Dodgers refused to go away quietly. Will Smith hit a homer in the sixth, Corey Seager hit another in the eighth, and the Rays held on for dear life.

It was a victory the Rays had to have, knowing that no World Series team has recovered from an 0-2 deficit to win the championship since the 1996 New York Yankees.

“This still feels like a World Series,’’ Rays third baseman Joey Wendle said. “Someone is still going to hoist the trophy saying you’re the best in the world, so having someone in the seats or not, doesn’t change that.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

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‘We screw up a lot’: Humility has been Tampa Bay Rays’ secret weapon on the road to World Series

ARLINGTON, Texas – Smart used to be so cool in baseball.

It was a nice run, beginning sometime in the late 2000s, resulting in the toppling of the eye test, the marginalization of the scout, the destruction of the Tommy Bahama Industrial Complex.

Ivy League was in, practical baseball experience was out, your credibility only as robust as how young and overeducated your assistant GM might be.

It ended with the thud of a bat striking a trash can, acts that occurred in 2017 but the sound waves not hitting the game until 2019, when the depth and specifics of the Houston Astros’ illegal sign-stealing campaign were revealed.

Suddenly, the executives and analysts and the media that celebrated them had their What Hath God Wrought moment, a time for introspection, to ponder that perhaps hyper-efficiency wasn’t everything, that arbitrage would eventually come for us all.

So now, the most efficient and cost-contained and most-wins-per-dollar franchise has reached the World Series, a time to analyze #process and peek beneath the hood.

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Yet, all the brain trust wants to do is claim ignorance – or at least cop to being nothing more than state-school material.

“Virginia Tech and Florida State aren’t outsmarting people,” insisted Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president Erik Neander, referring to his alma mater and that of his manager, Kevin Cash.

That was a nice try.

Tuesday night, the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008, on the strength of a player acquisition and development apparatus that has practically lapped the field. They will take on a Los Angeles Dodgers team that boasts a 2020 payroll more than three times its size.

The Dodgers are headed by baseball operations president Andrew Friedman, who built Tampa Bay’s modernized infrastructure before bolting to L.A., where he enjoys both efficiency and a near-bottomless trough of cash to tap into in the event, say, he wants to trade for Mookie Betts and sign him for $365 million.

Friedman left plenty of pixie dust in St. Petersburg, still a launching pad for top baseball jobs. Chaim Bloom now runs the Red Sox; James Click was snagged by the Astros in January to take over as GM after Jeff Luhnow was fired while serving a one-year suspension from Major League Baseball for enabling the Astros’ cheating scheme.

Neander joined up as an intern in 2007 and never left, joining Bloom atop the org chart when Friedman departed after the 2014 season. He grew into the public- and player-facing side of the job, suddenly tasked with explaining to the clubhouse why he was gutting a clubhouse of veterans, or to a fan base why payroll commitments shrank while industry revenues boomed.

Now, there is little to explain: The Rays posted two consecutive 90-win seasons before winning 66% of their games this year, a 108-win pace over a full season. They dispatched the Blue Jays and Yankees and Astros and now take on the Dodgers, who are appearing in their third World Series in four years.

Tampa Bay’s playoff roster has included up to 14 players acquired in trade, a startling tribute to Neander’s flurry of transactions and the people executing the club’s vision. The club is, predictably, loathe to specify the whys of their success, but also avoids smugly spiking the ball on their conquests.

Rather, the Rays tout a workplace low on toxins, a lab of collaboration, an ethos sent down from owner Stuart Sternberg to embrace failure, so long as you “break windows – don’t burn down the house”

You might call it analytics served with a side of humanity.

“I can’t stress how well the organization has treated me – not just me, but everyone here,” says Neander, 37. “I can’t imagine a workplace – not just in sports, but anywhere – that would treat us as well as we have.

“Just a wonderful group of people who enjoy what they do, united around the subject of baseball, about the team as much as one can imagine. And if we fall short, making sure we have a lot of fun along the way.”

Yeah, it’s not exactly the Bronx. And a franchise that manages to stay ahead of even the most analytically inclined and successful clubs can also steadfastly insist on a human element.

The Rays of Friedman and Joe Maddon and Evan Longoria are now the Rays of Neander and Tampa guy Cash and Kevin Kiermaier, the lone holdover from the Friedman-Maddon regime.

It is a vibe Kiermaier is determined to maintain.

“It was the same environment when I showed up,” says Kiermaier, the 30-year-old Gold Glove center fielder. “Be a professional, be yourself, do what you need to do, as long as you handle yourself each and every night out on the field, we don’t care what you do. But don’t cross that line or abuse what we got going on because it’s a really good thing.

“Guys come over here and say everything we do – in the clubhouse and behind closed doors – it’s incredible to be a part of. I have to thank the players who were here before me, because this is all I know. I just wanted to do my part to maintain that.”

Randy Arozarena and Kevin Kiermaier celebrate the Game 7 win against Houston. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez, USA TODAY Sports)

It would seem a challenge, given the consistent roster churn. Seventeen members of the 40-man roster have been acquired over the past two seasons. Then again, it’s a little easier when seemingly everyone who shows up can play.

In each of the past two off-seasons, the Rays traded for partially-known commodities – infielder Yandy Diaz and outfielder Randy Arozarena – based in some part on underlying statistics such as how hard they hit the ball. Diaz was the star of the 2019 postseason, while Arozarena, with a stunning seven home runs this October, has practically slugged Tampa Bay into the World Series.

“They’ve been right time and time again,” says Kiermaier, “and the majority of our roster has come from different organizations over the years. We’re dangerous, we know that, and it’s a beautiful thing to have talent all over the roster.”

Kiermaier speaks vaguely of formulas and data and other mysteries the club deploys. Neander speaks in far simpler terms, particularly when describing the Rays’ “stable” of relievers who push 100 mph on the radar gun. Just two of the nine full-time relievers on their ALCS roster – international free agents Diego Castillo and Jesus Alvarado – were originally signed by the Rays.

Take out veteran free agent Aaron Loup, and the others are young pitchers with less than two years’ service time imported from other organizations for their underlying skills – oh, and that velocity.

“Our guys are who they are because of their ability to throw strikes with two different pitches,” says Neander. “We don’t get too far away from the message of throwing strikes.”

He is quick to point out that this is far from the only way to build a championship roster. Flavors of the month are as popular in the executive suite as they are in the media. It is inherently harder to do it the Rays way and scratching the occasional nine-figure check for an All-Star caliber free agent can make up for a deficit in sweat equity.

There’s also something to be said for not asking your charges to put in more than you, while maintaining an air of acceptance.

“The way that they treat the guys, the way they treat everybody, it makes you feel comfortable, makes you feel at home,” says shortstop Willy Adames, a native of the Dominican Republic who was acquired from Detroit in the 2014 trade for David Price. “The work ethic of the organization makes them different than everybody.

“It makes you work even harder every day to prove to them that you belong here, that you can ball, and you can be a good player.”

A little humility doesn’t hurt, either, even in an industry where having all the answers – or insisting to your prospective boss that you do – remains the hope.

“We screw up a lot,” says Neander. “There’s support to take chances and make mistakes.

“It’s incredibly empowering to have a culture where you can make mistakes.”

And the humility to admit them.

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How a text from Dad helped turn Cody Bellinger into an October hero

  • Joined ESPN in 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams
  • Previously covered the Angels for

ARLINGTON, Texas — Clay Bellinger sat in Section 122 at Globe Life Field alongside his wife Sunday when Cody Bellinger came to bat with the score tied in the bottom of the seventh. Clay began to tell himself the same thing he tells himself every time his son digs into the batter’s box.

Let’s have a moment. Let’s have a moment. Let’s have a moment.

Then the moment came. The younger Bellinger turned on a fastball out over the plate, sent it 400 feet to right field and admired the drive in a manner befitting the accomplishment. His majestic home run gave the Los Angeles Dodgers their first lead and served as the decisive run in the 4-3 victory that sealed Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and punctuated an improbable comeback.

Throughout the summer, Clay watched as Cody struggled to duplicate the success of his MVP season in 2019. He batted only .239/.333/.455, one of several superstars who struggled through an unconventional season that consisted of empty stadiums without the use of in-game video and only a 60-game schedule.

Cody began the year adjusting to a slightly different setup, a personal preference that he suggested to the Dodgers’ hitting coaches during the three-month shutdown. As the season progressed, Clay kept hearing Cody express how comfortable he felt, even while positive results remained elusive. Clay, a utility player who won two World Series rings with the New York Yankees, mostly backed off. Then, after the Atlanta Braves took a commanding 3-1 series lead, he sent Cody a text. He felt his son was suddenly becoming too passive within the strike zone.

The message: Get in the box, be the man, see what happens.

“Hitting’s the hardest thing to do in sports, and when you’re taking one swing an at-bat, it’s super hard,” Clay explained. “I told him, ‘Get back to being aggressive the way you are. And if you get to two strikes, take that aggressive swing.'”

Clay started liking the quality of the at-bats over the next few days and watched it crescendo in Game 7. In the second inning, he watched Cody turn on a two-strike fastball low and inside — the type of pitch that gave him fits all year — and scorch a 107 mph line drive directly into the glove of Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. He followed by working back-to-back walks, the second on a full count.

Then, against Braves reliever Chris Martin in the seventh, Bellinger reached a 2-2 count. He fouled off a 95 mph sinker away and a 94 mph sinker inside, fouled off a 90 mph cutter off the plate, then got his pitch — another sinker, middle-up — and didn’t miss it. His home run, which came two years after a similar one, put him alongside Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra as the only players with a go-ahead homer in multiple Game 7s.

Now, with the Tampa Bay Rays on deck and four wins separating this franchise from its first World Series title since the days of Kirk Gibson, the question must be asked: Have the Dodgers finally unlocked Cody Bellinger?

“We get him going,” Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts said, “that is a sight to see.”

Bellinger’s home run was only his fifth hit in 25 at-bats this series, but that line doesn’t come close to capturing his performance last week. Throughout the series, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts noticed Bellinger and Corey Seager — the NLCS MVP after producing a 1.230 OPS in seven games — begin to fully grasp the importance of controlling the strike zone. Bellinger drew six walks in the series and chased 19.7% of pitches outside the strike zone, an improvement from his 28% chase rate from the regular season. His average exit velocity was 95 mph, which showed up in a lot of hard outs.

There was a 108 mph ground out in the second inning of Game 1, a 114 mph triple in the ninth inning of Game 2 and a 410-foot fly out to straightaway center field in the ninth inning of Game 4, which only remained in play because of howling winds that reached 15 mph.

Maybe Bellinger, a .178/.234/.326 hitter in 36 postseason games entering the year, has found his MVP form at the right time.

Maybe, like Seager, he has learned to slow down the game in October.

Maybe his best is yet to come.

“Man,” Clay said, “I hope so. That’s all you can hope for.”

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