The 2020 World Series was one that baseball fans won’t forget anytime soon. A season that struggled to get off the ground and faced a few pandemic outbreaks ended with the most difficult gauntlet of a playoff format in baseball history. 9 wins later, the two best regular season teams in baseball clashed.
The season closed in Arlington with a battle between the little team that fully embraced modern baseball analytics and a team that, well, fully embraced modern baseball analytics but had way more money.
The Tampa Bay Rays, a team with the third lowest payroll in the entire league, were expected to be a team that put pitching and defense first, and that’s exactly what they did. Even with Brandon Lowe becoming the team’s breakout star on offense, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and the “stable” of arms Tampa Bay bullpen made the Rays the best team in the American League.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, were expected to be one of the greatest teams of all time. The offseason acquisition of Mookie Betts, arguably the second best player in baseball, put them in conversation with the Yankees in the late 1920s and the Big Red Machine for the best offense of all time.
Impressively enough, Mookie Betts was the only superstar on the team that wasn’t homegrown or brought to prominence by the Dodgers. Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Chris Taylor were all reclamation projects, and platoon outfielder A.J. Pollock was signed in free agency, but almost the rest of the Dodgers core, including the pitching staff, was a product of incredible scouting, drafting, developing and extending.
LA finished the season with 43 wins, a pace that would have been good for 116 in a 162 game season, which would tie the regular season record. They even seemed to get better as the year went on, with Cody Bellinger finally coming around toward the end of the season and Corey Seager emerging as the player the Dodgers hoped he’d become when he won Rookie of the Year in 2016.
The Dodgers faced little adversity in the playoffs until the National League Championship Series, going up against the Atlanta Braves. The Braves had arguably the hottest offense in baseball, complete with the likely MVP of the National League in Freddie Freeman.
While the Braves jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, something seemed to click for the Dodgers in the seventh inning of game two. They couldn’t quite overcome a 7-0 deficit, but they picked up some momentum scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and four more in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The next day the Dodgers came out swinging with 11 runs in the first inning, basically ending the game before the Braves ever had a chance to answer. Behind five strong innings from Julio Urías, the Dodgers went on to win game three by a score of 15-3.
Clayton Kershaw fed the narrative that he struggles in the playoffs in game four giving up four runs over five innings on the way to a Dodgers loss. The boys from Chavez Ravine proceeded to play near perfect baseball the rest of the way, riding their bullpen in games five and seven and Walker Buehler in game six. A missile from defending MVP Cody Bellinger in game seven was the deciding factor and the exclamation point on LA’s third NLCS victory in the last four years.
The Dodgers met the Rays in the World Series, who were coming off a game seven themselves against the Houston Astros. Again, the Rays relied on pitching and defense to get through the playoffs, but they brought the hottest player in the playoffs into the World Series in left fielder Randy Arozarena.
When accounting for adjusted salary for his time in the majors and the shortened pandemic season, Arozarena made $90,000 in 2020. For reference, the two highest paid left fielders for the Dodgers, Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock, made more than $10 million last year. Arozarena out-homered the Pederson-Pollock duo in the 2020 playoffs ten to two.
Unfortunately for Arozarena, he was the only member of the Rays consistently hitting. Just as the Rays had done all season, it was a new guy delivering the big hit every night. Mike Brosseau did it in game five of the American League Divisional Series against the Yankees, Kevin Kiermaier came up with a few clutch hits and Manny Margot played a big role in downing the Astros, but Arozarena seemed to be the only one the Rays could consistently count on.
Game one was proof of that as the Rays were shut down by Clayton Kershaw, who set the tone to repave his playoff legacy. Kershaw went six innings in the first game of the World Series, giving up just one run before exiting. Dodgers MVPs Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts both homered on the way to an 8-3 Dodgers victory.
The Rays evened the series in game two on the back of Brandon Lowe, who hit two home runs, driving in three runs. Rays third baseman Joey Wendle drove in two more on a fourth inning double and another on a sixth inning sacrifice fly. Homers from Chris Taylor, Will Smith and Corey Seager weren’t enough for the Dodgers as Blake Snell and the Rays bullpen held off the LA offense.
Though a score of 6-2 might not seem like a punishing victory for the Dodgers, they owned game three. The Dodgers current ace, Walker Buehler went six innings, striking out ten Rays batters and giving up just one run on a Willy Adames double. The bullpen trio of Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Kenley Jansen picked up where Buehler left off, giving up one run on a Randy Arozarena home run in the ninth. The Rays sent just 31 hitters to the plate.
Game four is the game that will go down in history. When everyone looks back on the 2020 World Series, they will probably remember games four and six. It might have been the craziest game of the year, and it happened on baseball’s biggest stage.
Two lefties started the game for the Dodgers and Rays, with Julio Urías and Ryan Yarbrough on the hill, respectively. Justin Turner opened the scoring with a home run in the first inning for the second night in a row. Corey Seager homered in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 2-0, a score that would hold for one inning when Randy Arozarena launched his second home run of the World Series and his record-breaking ninth of the postseason.
Heading into the top of the sixth, the Dodgers had a 3-2 lead, which they extended on a double from utility man Kiké Hernández. That set the stage for Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe, who launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to put the Rays on top for the first time in the game.
The Dodgers answered quickly on a Joc Pederson single that scored Corey Seager and Justin Turner, giving the Dodgers a 6-5 lead. The battle was just beginning, as Kevin Kiermaier homered in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 6, only for Corey Seager to give the Dodgers the lead once again with an RBI single in the top of the eighth inning.
It was quiet until the bottom of the ninth inning, when the unlikely Rays postseason MVP Randy Arozarena stepped up the the plate with two outs and a man on first base. Arozarena worked a full count from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, eventually drawing a walk to put runners on first and second base. That would bring up the most unlikely of heroes.
Brett Phillips didn’t even make the ALCS roster. He was with the Kansas City Royals before being traded to the Rays on Aug. 27. He originally pinch ran earlier in the game with little expectation of getting a plate appearance, but with the way Rays manager Kevin Cash uses his bench, the Rays were out of options. Phillips was going to bat.
Down to his last strike, the career .202 hitter flicked a ball into center field. Kevin Kiermaier score easily, but a bobble from Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor caused the Rays third base coach to send Arozarena to the plate in an attempt to score the winning run. Arozarena fell down on his way to the plate, which should have ended the inning.
The throw to the plate from Taylor was cut off by Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy, who relayed the ball to LA catcher Will Smith. Smith was unable to hang onto the throw, and the ball rolled to the backstop, allowing Arozarena to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. The long shot hero scored the Rays most valuable postseason player, and the sight of Arozarena pounding on home plate for the eighth run is something that will be burned in the memories of baseball fans forever.
Game five saw Clayton Kershaw take the hill once again to face Rays hard-throwing right hander Tyler Glasnow. Again, Kershaw set out to rewrite his playoff story, going five and two-thirds innings, striking out six and giving up two runs. Joc Pederson and Max Muncy both homered for the Dodgers on their way to a 4-2 victory.
Game six had the Rays up against a wall forcing them to send out their horse, Blake Snell. Randy Arozarena immediately launched a ball into the right field seats off Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin for his record tenth homer of the postseason. Snell was mowing down Dodgers hitters through five and one-thirds innings before giving up a single to catcher Austin Barnes.
The most talked about decision of the World Series came next, with Kevin Cash removing a blistering hot Snell from the game before facing Mookie Betts, who hit .208 against left-handed pitching in 2020. Right-hander Nick Anderson took the hill for the Rays, and Betts proceeded to slap a double down the left field line. A wild pitch with Corey Seager at the plate scored Barnes and advanced Betts to third, then Seager grounded a ball to first base, scoring Betts, who looked like he was out to prove he’s the best baserunner in the game this postseason.
The Dodgers went up 2-1, but for Rays fans and players, it must have felt like the score was 12-1, as the Rays couldn’t get a single thing going the rest of the game against the Dodger bullpen. Betts swatted a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning for an insurance run, and Julio Urías slammed the door over the last two and one-third to give the Dodgers their first World Series victory since 1988.
Corey Seager took home the trophy for World Series MVP, but Clayton Kershaw really stole the spotlight. The eight-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young winner and 2014 MVP Award winner picked up the first ring of his career in his tenth postseason. He was a lock for the Hall of Fame before 2020, but now he’ll get to make his induction speech wearing at least one World Series ring, and with the litany of young talent and financial resources at the fingertips of Dodgers management, he figures to eye a few more before he calls it a career.
In probably the worst story of the night, third baseman Justin Turner exited the game early because of a positive test for COVID-19. When it was announced at the conclusion of the game, it was a difficult moment for everyone who knew Turner had been with this Dodgers team the entire way. Outside of Kershaw, he might have been the most deserving of a celebration.
He even sent out a tweet thanking everyone for checking in on him and saying he could’t believe he couldn’t be out on the field to celebrate winning the World Series. The story went sour when it appeared that Turner actually did celebrate on the field, presumably placing everybody he came in contact with in danger.
The MLB released a statement saying Turner was adamant about celebrating on the field despite security officials advising him not to leave an isolated space. The story is still developing, but fans obviously voiced their discontent via social media, and it made the success of what MLB called their “bubble” to that point seem moot. While the disappointment for Turner being unable to celebrate a title that he was such a key part of is palpable, it is difficult to justify his actions exposing players, families and fans to COVID-19.
Turner, along with Pedro Baez, Kiké Hernandez, Jake McGee, Joc Pederson, Blake Treinen and Alex Wood, is set to become a free agent after not receiving a qualifying offer from the Dodgers. It is yet to be seen how this will affect him in free agency, or he could return to the Dodgers where he is already one of the organizations most beloved players.
The 2020 baseball season ended about as well as anyone who has lived through 2020 could have predicted, but baseball fans who were worried about 2020’s title feeling cheap seem to have come around to the idea that this title was equally or more trying to achieve. 60 games or 162 games, the 2020 Dodgers will go down in history.