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The best team in a truncated regular season also was the top team in an extended playoffs, as the Los Angeles Dodgers ended a 32-year championship drought with a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday at Arlington, Texas.
The Dodgers also were the best homer-hitting team in a regular season that was shortened to 60 games as a concession to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they got inventive on offense to earn their deciding victory.
In their 16th consecutive game at the Texas Rangers' new Globe Life Field, the Dodgers turned a wild pitch and a fielder's choice into run-scoring gold in the fifth inning as they grabbed a 2-1 lead. Los Angeles also used seven pitchers, including starter Tony Gonsolin, who was pulled after 1 2/3 innings.
"We've been through a lot, man and it's such an unbelievable feeling celebrating with these guys," said Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP who had a rocky 2020 season. "It's been unbelievable."
Left-hander Julio Urias was the last of the seven Dodgers arms, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the save. He struck out Willy Adames looking to end it. Lefty Victor Gonzalez (1-0) fanned three in 1 1/3 shutout innings to earn the victory.
"It's funny, (Urias) had two days' rest and people are saying, 'Hey what do you think? How much more does he got?'" Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said on MLB Network. "I said, 'This is his game. He's finishing this up.' I'm just proud of him."
Rays starter Blake Snell was in the midst of the most impressive start of his career, when factoring in the moment. He struck out nine and gave up just two harmless singles the first two times through the Dodgers order.
However, with one out in the sixth inning, following a single by Dodgers No. 9 hitter Austin Barnes, Rays manager Kevin Cash went to his bullpen to protect a 1-0 lead, putting right-hander Nick Anderson (1-1) into the game. After striking out twice against Snell, Mookie Betts hit a double to put runners on second and third.
Barnes scored on an Anderson wild pitch to tie the game, with Betts moving to third. Corey Seager, who also fanned twice against Snell, then hit a ground ball to first with Betts scoring on a dive just ahead of the throw home for a 2-1 advantage.
"I'm not exactly sure why, I'm not asking any questions, but he was pitching a great game," Betts said of the Rays' decision to lift Snell. "We had a chance to do something, but they made a pitching change, and it seemed like that's all we needed."
The quick hook was the subject of the first question in Cash's postgame press conference.
"Personally, I felt Blake had done his job and then some," Cash said. "Mookie was coming around for the third time through. I value that. I totally respect and understand the questions that come with it. Blake gave us every opportunity to win. He was outstanding. They are not easy decisions."
Snell was not happy with the decision at the time and he still was processing it postgame. He finished the postseason with a 3.03 ERA and held opponents to a .194 batting average in six outings.
"I felt I did everything I could to prove my case to stay out there," Snell said. "And then for us to lose it (stinks). ... I want to win, I want to win a World Series and that's the goal, so for us to lose, it just (stinks). I'm not gonna question (Cash), he's a hell of a manager. I'll voice my opinion."
The exclamation point for the Dodgers came in the eighth when Betts, the Dodgers' high-profile roster addition in the offseason thanks to a trade with the Boston Red Sox, hit a home run for a 3-1 advantage. It was his second homer of the series.
There would be more heroics from Rays rookie Randy Arozarena, who gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead with a first-inning homer against Gonsolin.
Arozarena became the second rookie ever to hit three home runs in a single World Series, joining Charlie Keller of the 1939 New York Yankees, while extending his all-time record for a single postseason to 10 homers. He also became the first rookie to collect RBIs in four consecutive World Series games.
Seager, who finished the six games at 8-for-20 (.400) with two home runs and five RBIs to earn the MVP award, said Cash's decision to remove Snell was uplifting for the Dodgers.
"He was good, he made pitches and he was dominant," Seager said of Snell. "It almost gave us a little more confidence when he got out of the game and we scratched a few runs and that's all we needed.
Right after the game, MLB announced that Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner tested positive for COVID-19. Turner was removed from the game when the Dodgers took the field for the top of the eighth.
"Absolutely devastating; that man more than anybody deserves to be out here celebrating this with this team," Seager said. "I feel so bad for him. If I could change placed with him right now I would."
It was the Dodgers' seventh World Series championship in franchise history, with six of them coming after they moved to Los Angeles in 1958. The title also came in their eighth consecutive trip to the postseason and their third World Series in four years.
The Dodgers' most recent title came in 1988, when a hobbled Kirk Gibson hit a walk-off homer to beat the Oakland Athletics in Game 1. Los Angeles went on to win the series in five games.
--Field Level Media