Gritty Comeback Propels Dodgers to World Series
October 19, 2020

Vin Scully said it about Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series, but it may be more applicable today. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” True, the Dodgers have been favorites all along to get to this year's fall classic, but not after falling behind 2-0 and 3-1 in a best-of-seven series.

The Dodgers' 4-3 win in game seven on Sunday made history. Oh sure, Boston came from 3-0 down to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in 2004, but no National League team has ever come back from being down two games twice (in other words, 2-0 and 3-1). It's happened four times in the AL, but never before in the National League. Despite baseball's best record of 43-17 during a 60-game abbreviated regular season, the playoffs for the Dodgers have been a bumpy ride.

Thinking it was for the betterment of the game, Major League Baseball added an extra round of playoffs this year. While no playoff game or series is a cruise, the Dodgers swept Milwaukee in the best-of-three 'Wild Card Series', and then were able to take three straight from the Padres in the best-of-five Division Series, including a home run saving catch by Cody Bellinger in the clincher. Bellinger and fellow outfielder Mookie Betts would continue with great defense in the NL Championship Series against Atlanta.

That series looked like the end for the Dodgers. The Braves won the first two games by scores of 5-1 and 8-7, the Dodger offense was sputtering and the bullpen was faltering. The team that was the best all year was pressing, and it showed. That 8-7 game may have been a wakeup call, though. LA was trailing 7-0 at the seventh inning stretch, but mounted a comeback. It fell short, but carried on to the next day. On Wednesday, all you had to do was watch the first 32 minutes. The Dodgers, batting first, scored their first run on two pitches, and ended up with 11 runs in the first inning alone. They won 15-3.

Thursday, however, was completely different. The Braves pummeled Clayton Kershaw and the Dodger bullpen 10-2 and put LA's season on the brink. Quoting Ray Stevens' Mississippi Squirrel Revival, “What happened next is hard to tell. Some thought it was heaven. Others thought it was hell, but the fact that something was among us was plain to see.” In game five, the Dodgers trailed 2-0 but came back to win 7-3. In Saturday's sixth game, Walker Buehler pitched six scoreless innings, Corey Seager and Justin Turner hit back-to-back homers in the first inning, and LA won 3-1, setting up the deciding seventh game finale. Not wanting to make anything easy for their fans, the Dodgers fell behind 2-0 early in the game, tied it with a two-run single by Will Smith in the third, fell behind again, tied it with Hernandez' homer in the sixth inning and took the lead for good with Bellinger's homer in the seventh. Julio Urias, normally a starting pitcher, worked the final three innings to ice the win.

The Dodgers now face the Tampa Bay Rays beginning Tuesday, but the road for the Rays was not an easy one. They were up three games to none against the sub-.500 Houston Astros, who only got into the playoffs because of the extended invitations, but then beat the Minnesota Twins and the Oakland A's. Houston won three straight to force a game seven, but the Rays ultimately prevailed. The networks, and maybe even some Dodger fans, may have preferred a matchup with Houston as revenge for the 2017 cheating scandal, but it's the best versus the best, which was the way it was intended when the World Series was created in 1903. It's just the first time since 2013, though (Red Sox vs. Cardinals), and the third time since the advent of the wild card in 1994 (Braves-Indians in 1995 and Yankees-Braves in 1999) that the teams with the best records in each league squared off in the World Series.

That 1999 season was the last time the Braves made it to the World Series, but won it all in 1995. For the Dodgers, it's their third trip in four years. Fox had an interesting stat at the end of their broadcast on Sunday that only four times since World War Two has a National League team gone to the World Series three times in four years, and it's been the Dodgers every time. This team (2017-20), 1963-66 (The Dodgers won in '63 and '65), and Brooklyn from 1953-56 and 52-55 (so really four times in five years) with their only championship in Brooklyn in 1955.

Fans know all too well, though, that it has been 32 years since a World Series party in Los Angeles. That improbable, impossible year of 1988.

Dueling duos: Whichever city wins the World Series will see its second title in just a matter of a couple of weeks. The Tampa Bay Lightning won hockey's Stanley Cup, and the Los Angeles Lakers just won their NBA basketball championship a week ago. Incidentally, when the Dodgers last won it all in 1988, the Lakers were champions that year, too.

Football still rules: Despite doing the first six games of the Dodgers-Braves series with Hall of Famer John Smoltz, Fox assigned play-by-play man Joe Buck to football, and replaced him on the Sunday baseball broadcast with Joe Davis. Davis is a Fox employee as well as the Dodger TV play-by-play voice. I didn't check to see if Buck may had the Packers-Buccaneers game Sunday afternoon, but he is doing the Bills-Chiefs game today, which was originally supposed to be played last Thursday (a Fox national telecast), but was postponed for Covid reasons.

Should we care about hockey anymore?: Staying with the theme of broadcasters, first class, and the nation's best hockey play-by-play man Mike Emrick announced his retirement today after 47 seasons behind the mic. Known as Doc because he is a professor, and you could tell that just by listening to him, the 74 year-old Emrick was the lead voice of the NHL on NBC for 15 seasons, and before that broadcast for the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, with minor league and college hockey before that. Emrick is one of the few guys (like Scully) who could make reading a phone book or a grocery list sound fascinating, and NBC struck gold when the NHL was essentially all they had to offer after losing the NBA and the NFL's AFC Sunday package. From CNN, “Throughout his career, Emrick has covered the Stanley Cup Final 22 times, 45 Stanley Cup Playoff game sevens, six Olympics, 14 NHL All-Star Games and 19 NHL Winter Classics and Stadium Series games. Emrick estimates that he has called over 3,750 professional and Olympic hockey games.” From ESPN's Tony Kornheiser, “It's the hardest sport to call because it's so fast, and there are so many personnel changes, and Emrick made it sound like he was paddling a canoe in calm water.” No farewell tour or anything for him either. He waited until after the season to make the announcement. When you heard Emrick's voice, you knew the game was important.

Muted response: Breaking news. The debate commission has announced that Thursday's final showdown between Donald Trump and Joe Biden will feature a mute button to allow the moderator to silence one candidate while the other is talking. One thing Trump got done this time that should have been put in place years ago. Probably won't be as fun (or effective) as ESPN's Around the Horn, though.

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