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When Yasiel Puig bombed a monstrous three-run home run to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth Dodger Stadium erupted with excitement. Chavez Ravine was frothing with impending joy. After the Dodger’s thrilling 18-inning seven hour win in game 3 and a four-run lead in the seventh inning of game 4, the boys in blue were setup nicely for a series-tying win. Everyone could taste the possibilities. The Dodgers were only two wins away from finally ending the thirty-year championship drought.
Then the wheels fell off and it all started with an ill-advised decision to remove starting pitcher Rich Hill in the top of the seventh inning. Hill reported to manager Dave Roberts that he should keep an eye on him in case he got tired. Roberts took that as an indication that he should immediately fall back to his crutch, going to another stupid bullpen matchup.
Up until that point, Hill was breezing. Nay, he was dominating. Hill had allowed just one hit and after a lead-off walk had struck out Xander Bogaerts. With one out and the Dodgers desperately needing a win, out came Roberts to do what 50,000 Dodger fans were begging him not to do. He hooked Hill and went to a beleaguered bullpen. What followed was an unimaginable nightmare. Only this has happened before.
In the 2017 World Series against the Astros Roberts did the same thing. He pulled Rich Hill from a game in which he was pitching very well, albeit earlier than on Saturday night. That choice in game 2 of the World Series last year against the Astros set off a chain of events that cost the Dodgers the game and eventually the series. This time around the results were far worse and far more destructive.
Roberts called upon left hander Scott Alexander, the ground ball specialist who can’t throw strikes. Alexander who was left off the NLCS roster threw four straight balls walking the only hitter he faced. With logic once again staring Roberts in the face, he defied it bringing in over-the hill (no pun-intended) aging reliever Ryan Madson. After recording one out, Madson gave up a massive three-run home run to Boston pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland that almost landed in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. That cut the Dodger lead to 4-3 within a blink of an eye.
The air was immediately sucked out of Chavez Ravine like a vacuum. Kenley Jansen was asked once again to get six outs and preserve a one-run lead. He couldn’t do it again. Only one day removed from blowing a 1-0 lead in game 3 on Friday night, Jansen served up a score-tying home run to Steve Pearce and the flood gates opened. For the record, that is the third World Series game that he has blown in his legendary Dodger career.
After the Dodgers left runners on first and third in the bottom of the eighth when Yasmani Grandal struck out, (what else is new?) the rest of the Dodger bullpen (Dylan Floro, Kenta Maeda, and Alex Wood) all gassed from the marathon game the night before proceeded to allow the Red Sox to score five more runs in the top of the ninth to put the Dodgers in an unbeatable hole. The score was 9-4 Boston and Dodger fans headed for the exits to beat the traffic out of the stadium. The Dodgers did score twice in the bottom of the ninth incredibly on a two-run homer from Enrique Hernandez off of Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, but it was not nearly enough to overcome the hellish collapse that had already taken place.
Look the Red Sox are just a better team. The Dodgers would have to beat the Boston squad three consecutive games with the last two at Fenway Park to win the World Series. It’s not gonna happen people. Believe whatever you want to. Cling to whatever hope or optimism you like, that’s the reality. But what do the Dodgers do in the offseason? How do the Dodgers get over the hump and finally win a championship?
I don’t know if you can blame this all on Roberts. Granted the Dodgers are a very good club. They’ve won consecutive National League pennants and that’s extremely difficult to do. The Dodgers are here because of an array of talent and smart management. Sure you could fire Roberts, or Andrew Friedman and I wouldn’t shed a tear, but would that really solve the problem?
So what is the problem? To me, the problem is an organizational one. A lack of fundamental baseball approach and strategies are to blame for this more than anything. I would like to see a change in philosophies for next season. A return to preaching making contact, moving runners over, playing hot bats and sticking with pitchers who are getting guys out over matchups, analytics, and over reliance on ineffective or aging relievers is what is needed.
Matchups and analytics are just tools that if used in moderation can help you win. But if that’s your only strategy and you forgo basic baseball skills like putting runners in motion, making contact, and going with your gut then those become a hindrance instead of a winning strategy. The key is moderation and the Dodgers have binged on matchups all season long. I would love to see a matchup-free 2019.
But this will never happen. The Dodgers will never win a championship anytime soon. It’s unbelievable to me because every other club has won one within the last thirty years. The Astros won one under A.J. Hinch, their first in franchise history. The evil Giants won three disgusting titles under Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean thanks to a mix of strong pitching, baseball fundamentals and contact hitting. The Red Sox (once they beat the Dodgers in this series) will have won their fourth over the last fifteen years. The Yankees have won hundreds of titles since then. The Cubs got their championship in 2016. Heck even the Angels have won one under Mike Scioscia not long ago. The Angels won a World Series! The Angels, one of the most inept organizations in baseball still managed to grab a ring within that time span.
No, this is a curse. It’s an organizational problem that has infested every nook of the Dodgers. It all starts and ends with the stupid matchups and data over common sense. Generations of Dodger fans have grown up without ever having seen the Dodgers hoist the World Series trophy. The 1988, 1981 Dodgers didn’t gag in the World Series because guys like Tommy Lasorda, Fred Claire, and Al Campanis drilled those basic baseball fundamentals into the player’s heads. Sure they lost a few series along the way, but they at least won a couple. Unfortunately that era is long dead and guys like Friedman, Zaidi hail from small markets like Tampa Bay and Oakland where they are unfamiliar with championships and what it takes to win one.
All I ask is for the Dodgers to at least win one more game before the cold empty winter envelops us. Don’t let another team celebrate a championship that we can’t win on the hallowed field of Dodger Stadium. Make those guys win it in Boston. I’m not asking for much here. The Dodgers are officially the Buffalo Bills of baseball and I hate it.