Dodgers’ championship is vindication for many team members

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SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

I’m not sure it was worth a 32-year wait, but the Dodgers winning the World Series Oct. 27 with a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays was a soul-satisfying achievement in the strange year that 2020 has been.

The year that will always be remembered for the coronavirus, also will be remembered by Los Angeles sports fans as the year the Dodgers and Lakers both brought home world championships.

Unfortunately, because of said coronavirus, we won’t be able to celebrate those championships like we should. Can you imagine two parades — one starting at Staples Center, the other at Dodger Stadium — both ending up at Grand Park across from City Hall for a massive celebration of Dodgers and Lakers fans.

Well, we can dream, can’t we?

This Dodger team hasn’t been waiting for 32 years to win a title — 21 of the 28 roster players weren’t born in 1988 — but after winning eight consecutive National League West titles and appearing in three of the last four World Series, it was nice to finally win one.

And for many of the players — and manager Dave Roberts — the victory in game six was redemption for previous failures.

Exhibit A, ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw. He has been the ace of this pitching staff almost since he got here in 2008, but Kershaw had always struggled in previous postseasons.

In 13 years with the Dodgers he had a winning percentage of .697 for games in which he factored in the decision, but prior to this season, he was 9-11 in the postseason and some of those losses were epic failures, like game 5 of the 2017 World Series against the Astros and game five of the National League Divisional Series with Washington last year.

But this year was different. No longer considered the ace of the staff — Walke Buehler is the new ace — all Kershaw did was win four games (with one loss) in the postseason, including wins in games 1 and 5 in the World Series.

It was nice to see Kershaw hoist the World Series trophy in the post-game celebration.

Likewise, Kenley Jansen. In 2006, Jansen was a catcher in the low minors. He caught Kershaw that season in the Gulf Coast League.

But Jansen couldn’t hit minor league pitching, so the Dodgers made him a pitcher. He made it to the big leagues in 2010 and became the team’s closer in 2012.

Like Kershaw he struggled in the postseason and — unlike Kershaw — they continued into this postseason. As recently as Oct. 24, he blew a ninth inning save opportunity when the Rays, with the help of two Dodger errors on one play, scored a walk-off 8-7 victory in what may have been the best World Series game ever, except for the final score.

Jansen never got into games 5 or 6, but as one of the team’s elder statesmen, he deserves a World Series ring, too.

Then there is manager Dave Roberts. He has been vilified for making bad pitching choices for years, going back to his failure to yank Yu Darvish before he had given up five runs in game seven of the 2017 World Series.

He was criticized again for using Jansen in game 4 this year and for several other games when his pitching moves backfired.

That’s baseball. Ask Kevin Cash, Tampa Bays’ manager. His ace, Blake Snell was coasting along in the sixth inning in game six. Through five innings, he has struck out nine Dodgers and given up one hit, but catcher Austin Barnes got a base hit with one out in the sixth, and with Mookie Betts coming up next, Cash went out and pulled Snell.

Two batters later, the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead. After Betts doubled, a wild pitch by Nick Anderson scored Barnes and moved Betts to third.

Betts raced home with the go-ahead run when World Series MVP Corey Seager hit a ground ball to first. He added an insurance run in the eighth inning with a long home run, a hit that signified the end for Tampa Bay.

Roberts made all the right bullpen moves, pulling a over-matched Tony Gonsolin in the second inning. After Dylan Floro got the last out in that inning, Roberts sent Alex Wood to the mound in the third.

Wood, who lost his spot in the starting rotation early in the season, threw two hitless innings.

Pedro Baez, Victor Gonzales and Brusdar Graterol were then the bridge to Julio Urias, who got the last seven outs for the save.

In the last 7 1/3 innings, the Dodgers’ relief pitchers allowed only two hits and no walks while striking out 11. Four of the five outs Gonsolin recorded also came via strikeouts, giving the Rays 15 whiffs in an elimination game. That won’t win many games.

The Dodgers were expected to win the World Series. They had a deep roster that led the major leagues in home runs, a stellar starting rotation and enough arms in the bullpen.

That they persevered through the pandemic to win it all makes it a season to remember for the ages. Long after the coronavirus has gone away.

KID QUARTERBACK: The Chargers may have found themselves another franchise quarterback.

Justin Herbert guided the team to its second victory of the season, a 39-29 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Oct. 25 that ended the Chargers four-game losing streak.

After defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 in the season opener, the Chargers had lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers  and New Orleans Saints, blowing big leads in three of the four losses.

Herbert was forced into action in game two against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs after a team doctor punctured the lung of starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor while giving him a pain-killing injection for sore ribs.

Taylor may never on the field again for the Chargers.

In five games, Herbert has thrown for more than 1,500 yards with 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also has run for two touchdowns. The Chargers didn’t intend for Herbert to be starting already, but it looks like he is ready for the big time.

With Jared Goff secure at quarterback for the Rams, it looks like both local teams are set at quarterback for the foreseeable future.

NEW COLLEGE TEAM: Two weeks before the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins begin an abbreviated Pac 12 football season, college football returned to Los Angeles when the region’s newest college football program, the San Diego State Aztecs, defeated UNLV 34-6 in their season opener.

Yes, another San Diego team has moved into Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson. The Chargers played there for three seasons after moving from San Diego while waiting for SoFi Stadium to be built.

The county isn’t allowing fans into stadiums, so the Aztecs drew even a smaller crowd than the Chargers did. They expect to make Carson their home away from home for the next two seasons while SDCCU Stadium is demolished and a new stadium built in its place.

The Aztecs are coming off a 10-3 season in 2019 and return 15 starters, seven on offense, eight on defense, from that team.

They have three more home games at Dignity Health Sports Park this season.