Dynamic Dodgers reach World Series with consummate teamwork
LOS ANGELES (AP) — After third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen propelled the Los Angeles Dodgers to their most recent home playoff victory a few days ago, they took off their uniforms and pulled on T-shirts supporting a teammate.
Jansen’s shirt urged fans to send Turner to the All-Star Game, albeit three months late. The red-bearded Turner’s shirt simply bore Yasiel Puig’s No. 66 in big blue numerals.
This type of thing happens almost every day around the Dodgers, who will host their franchise’s first World Series game in 29 years on Tuesday night.
“The thing is, I think we all care about each other,” Jansen said. “It’s not about that one guy. We are all here helping each other out and getting better every day. Ever since spring training, we’ve been doing that.”
Jansen’s belief has been proven throughout a season that’s already one of the most remarkable in Dodgers history. Despite their jaw-dropping payroll, an LA-record 104 regular-season wins and a 7-1 rampage through the NL playoffs, these Dodgers are a team in a fundamental sense.
Although the majors’ most expensive roster is extraordinarily deep, the Dodgers lack a peerless star beyond Clayton Kershaw, who doesn’t play every day. They share the offensive load to a remarkable degree, and they play defense with an aggressiveness that underlines their deep trust in each other.
As Los Angeles fans — at least the ones who can get the Dodgers’ television network — already know, this is an upbeat, thoroughly likable group of players and coaches working together to end a championship drought before it reaches three decades.
Nobody carries the Dodgers. They lift each other.
“All season long, it hasn’t been about one guy,” said Turner, who achieved Dodgers immortality with his walk-off homer to win Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. “It’s a group of guys all showing up to the field and figuring out a way to win a ballgame, one night at a time. You know, we’ve been pretty good at that so far.”
They’ve been incredible at it from April to October — well, except for a 1-16 stretch from late August into September that prevented them from challenging the greatest records in baseball history. Right before that, the Dodgers went 82-25 during an astonishing summer, and they’ve regained that edge in the postseason.
Los Angeles swept the Arizona Diamondbacks and dropped only a single one-run decision to the Cubs on the way to the franchise’s 22nd NL pennant. They finished in Chicago quickly enough to earn four days off, allowing Kershaw to make his World Series debut on full rest in the opener.
Their starting rotation was excellent, from Kershaw and Rich Hill to two outstanding October starts from newcomer Yu Darvish. Their bullpen was dominant in the postseason after being the NL’s best in the regular season, allowing no runs to the Cubs in the entire NLCS.
And their lineup is a masterpiece of teamwork orchestrated by manager Dave Roberts, who usually picks the right guys from his numerous options.
The Dodgers scored fewer runs than the other four NL playoff teams during the regular season with no 100-RBI producers and just one .300-hitting regular. Yet their lineup is stacked nightly with professional hitters who work counts, wear out opponents’ starters and confidently take control of the late innings for 47 comeback victories and 10 walk-off wins.
And they also post the occasional blowout, such as the clinching 11-1 win at Wrigley Field on Thursday night. The Dodgers popped bottles into the night inside the friendly confines before a flight home that arrived in the wee hours.
“I think about each individual player and coach and staff (member) and their families, and what we had to sacrifice to get to where we’re at,” Roberts said. “And to do what we did, it takes a lot of talent, a lot of give, a lot of open-mindedness. There was a complete buy-in.”
The Dodgers have made 11 postseasons since their 1988 championship, but their failure to win a title during those 10 previous playoff appearances is the longest streak in baseball history. They’ve won the last five NL West titles before losing in the league playoffs four times, including last season’s NLCS to the Cubs.
These Dodgers have emphatically erased that chunk of history. When they take the field on Tuesday night, they’ll be in position to claim Los Angeles’ sixth World Series title since the Brooklyn Dodgers moved west in 1958.
“That’s where we want to be,” NLCS co-MVP Chris Taylor said. “At home, in front of our crowd, in the World Series. We’re right where we wanted to be since the start of the year.”
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