Sunday, October 25, 2020

World Series: Game Four

I'm not going to summarize yesterday's game -- you can read the live blog, and by now everyone knows what happened.  Instead, I want to talk about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.

These days, of course, we remember the Big Red Machine of the 1970s as one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball.  Between 1970 and 1976 the Reds won four pennants and back-to-back World Championships.  Almost 50 years later, they are still one of the greatest teams I've ever seen.

But for most of October 1975, the situation was quite different.  In 1970, the Reds won the pennant and were flattened in five fairly easy games by the Orioles.  Two years later, the Reds returned to the World Series -- and were beaten in a seven-game thriller by Oakland.  In 1973, the Reds went back to the playoffs -- and were stunned by a not-very-good Mets team that happened to be white-hot at the time.  They were beaten by the Dodgers in 1974, but roared back in 1975 with their best team ever.  They won 108 games.  They beat the Dodgers by 20 games.  They crushed Pittsburgh to win the pennant.  And all they had to do was beat a surprising Red Sox team to capture their first world title in 35 years.

From the beginning, it was a struggle.  Luis Tiant shut them out in Game One.  The Reds fought back to win two close games, but the Tiant beat them 5-4 in Game Four.  But then things started to go their way.  They crushed Boston 6-2 in Game Five.  Five days later, after sitting through several days of rain, they finally got to Tiant, and were up 6-3 and cruising heading into the bottom of the 8th.  Surely now they had the title they had been seeking for so long.  But Rawley Eastwick gave up a three-run homer, and the Red Sox won in 12 on Carlton Fisk's home run.  The next day -- the last game of the season -- the Red Sox led 3-0 going into the sixth inning.  At that point, according to Baseball Reference, the Big Red Machine had only an 18 percent chance of victory.  If they couldn't do something pretty spectacular -- in Fenway Park, against a smart, lucky team, they were going to lose again.

Of course, they came through.  They scored two runs in the sixth, one run in the seventh, and one more in the ninth.  They shut out Boston the rest of the way.  And the finally won the 1975 Championship.

The next year they crushed everyone and didn't lose a single game in the post-season.

Here's the point:  last night's game proved that the Rays, like the 1975 Red Sox, have caught lightning in a bottle.  They are not going to get buried.  Instead, they are riding a wave that could take them all the way to the title.  If the Dodgers win this World Series, they will have to beat the Rays, not just intimidate them.

The Dodgers will also have to overcome their own history.  Like the Big Red Machine, they've lost a lot of heartbreakers:

In Game Two of the 2017 World Series, they were up 3-2 going into the 9th, and lost 7-6 in 11 innings.
In Game Four of the 2018 World Series, they were up 4-0 going into the 7th, and lost 9-6.
In Game Five of the 2019 Divisional Playoffs, they were up 3-1 going into the 8th, and lost 7-3 in 10 innings.
And last night they were up 7-6 going into the 9th, and lost 8-7 in humiliating fashion.

If they can overcome this history, and win the title, they could establish themselves as a historically great team.  They have the talent.  But they don't yet have the results.

Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are tied 2-2.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

World Series: Game Three

For the third game in a row, one team took the lead and held it throughout.  This time it was the Dodgers, who rolled to an easy 6-2 victory behind timely hitting and a dominant pitching performance by Walker Buehler.  This is the first time since 1988 that the Dodgers have had a 2-1 lead in the World Series.

Los Angeles leads Tampa Bay 2-1.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

World Series: Game Two

For reasons I don't understand, the Dodgers decided not to use a starting pitcher in Game Two.  Instead, they treated it like an All Star game, changing pitchers almost every inning.  (They used seven in all.)  There's a reason why this strategy isn't used much outside of All Star games, and it is that most teams -- even a team as good as the Dodgers -- can't roll out seven good pitchers in one game.  Eventually you're going to have a dud.  The Dodgers' dud last night was Dustin May, who was terrible.  When May entered the game in the top of the fourth, Tampa Bay led 1-0.  When he left, after completing the fifth inning, Tampa Bay led 5-0.  And that was all she wrote.  The Dodgers got some late homers, but the Rays racked up a 6-4 victory.  So the Dodgers' four-game winning streak -- and their lead in the Series -- are gone.  But at least a lot of their pitchers can say they played in the Fall Classic.

Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are tied 1-1.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

World Series: Game One

Well, that's probably the best game I've ever seen the Dodgers play in the World Series.  Clayton Kershaw was great, Mookie Betts was amazing, and the Dodgers rolled to an 8-3 win.

On the Kershaw issue, Dan LeBetard pointed out today that in 2017, the Series was tied 2-2, and the Dodgers had a 4-0 lead in Game Five with Kershaw on the mound.  Kershaw almost never loses in that situation.  So under normal circumstances, Kershaw wins that game, the Dodgers go home with a 3-2 Series lead, and both the Dodgers and Kershaw become World Champions.  The Dodgers have a different reputation, Kershaw has a different reputation, everything is different.  What actually happened, of course, is that Houston cheated.  They scored six runs off of Kershaw, drove him out of the game, and beat the Dodgers 13-12 in 10 innings.  Everyone blamed Kershaw for choking, everyone criticized the Dodgers for blowing the game (they also had a 7-4 lead at one point), and everyone admired the plucky Astros.

This is why cheating is wicked, and why the Astros franchise should have been punished so heavily that it would be out of playoff contention for years and years to come.

Anyway, it was a good night for the Dodgers, but you can't really tell much about a series until you've seen at least three games.  Game Two is tonight.

Los Angeles leads Tampa Bay 1-0.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Los Angeles v. Tampa Bay

The Dodgers are making their 21st trip to the World Series.  It is their 12th trip as the Los Angeles Dodgers, after making nine trips as the Brooklyn Dodgers.  (The Brooklyn Dodgers played at Ebbits Field from 1913 through 1957, a total of 45 seasons.  The Los Angeles Dodgers have played in Dodger Stadium from 1962 through 2020, a total of 58 seasons.)  The Dodgers have an overall record of 6-14 in World Series play:

1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1988, 2017, 2018

From 1919 through 1954, Tampa was represented by a series of minor league teams known as the Tampa Smokers, which is a much better name than "Rays."  From 1957 to 1988, the Tampa Tarpons competed in the Florida State League.  For much of the period from 1920 to 2000, St. Petersburg had a team known as the St. Petersburg Saints.  But in 1998, Major League Baseball came to the Greater Tampa area in the form of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  After the 2007 season, they changed their name to the Rays and immediately won the pennant.  And now they have their second one.  The Devil Rays/Rays have yet to win the World Series.  So here is Tampa Bay's list of World Series appearances so far:

2008

There's not exactly a longstanding rivalry between the cities of Los Angeles and Tampa.  But they have met for a title before.  After years of stability, the 1979 NFC playoffs featured a whole series of strange events.  The Eagles, who hadn't been a serious factor since about 1960, beat Chicago 27-17 to win the Wild Card Game.  But then the Eagles lost 24-17 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had famously gone winless only a few seasons before.  Meanwhile, the Rams -- who spent the 1970's losing playoff games -- stunned Dallas with a 21-19 upset, in what turned out to be Roger Staubach's last game.  (There's something very fitting about the fact that Staubach played his last game on the next-to-last day of the 1970's.)  Anyway, that left the Rams and Tampa Bay to play for a trip to the Super Bowl.  In one of the least entertaining NFL playoff games ever, the Rams went to Tampa and beat the Bucs 9 to 0 with three field goals.  We will hope this World Series provides more excitement.