MILWAUKEE – Near the end of a season that on many nights seemed to lack the legs for October, the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night clinched their second consecutive trip to the World Series, where beginning Tuesday they will play the American League champion Boston Red Sox.
Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig homered. Rookie Walker Buehler pitched into the fifth inning. Left fielder Chris Taylor made a sliding, run-saving catch. Kenley Jansen recorded four outs, striking out three. Clayton Kershaw slammed the door in the ninth. And in a Game 7 of a National League Championship Series that had come to seem inevitable, the Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, 5-1. The pennant is the franchise’s 24th. Bellinger was named the NLCS MVP.
The separator after nearly a week-and-a-half of baseball, of scheming and pitching changes, was Puig’s three-run home run in the sixth inning against Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress. With two out, a 1-1 count and the Dodgers holding to a 2-1 lead, Puig lined a fastball over the center-field fence. He hoisted his arms and chopped at his thighs and slashed at his throat in a home-to-home gallop that was part ceremony and part rave.
While the series generally had been played on this side of the fence, as the Dodgers had two home runs and the Brewers five through six games, both teams had homered by the second inning in Game 7.
Christian Yelich hit Buehler’s eighth pitch into the visitors’ bullpen in right-center field. The Brewers led, 1-0. In the second, Manny Machado reached on a bunt single and, behind him, Bellinger homered into the second deck in right field. Combined, Yelich and Bellinger had hit 61 regular-season home runs. It was the first for both in the NLCS. Also, the RBI was Yelich’s first. The Dodgers led, 2-1, their runs coming just ahead of Brewers reliever Josh Hader’s entrance.
The lead allowed the Dodgers to wait out Hader’s appearance. The lefty threw three scoreless innings behind starter Jhoulys Chacín. When he was gone, the Dodgers’ offense picked up again. Max Muncy and Justin Turner singled ahead of Puig’s home run.
Five months before, the Dodgers had started the season with a record of 16-26, twice lagging to nine games behind the leader in the National League West, and so required an extra day to clinch their sixth consecutive division title. They took out the Atlanta Braves in four games of the division series, then the Brewers in seven.
Their shortstop, Corey Seager, twice an All Star, played 26 games then had Tommy John surgery. Their third baseman, Justin Turner, had a wrist injury, didn’t start the season until mid-May, and didn’t warm up until August. The bullpen became a moving target, Kenley Jansen suffered a recurrence of a heart ailment, Clayton Kershaw missed chunks of time because of a back and bicep issue, Matt Kemp faded badly in the second half, Hyun-jin Ryu made one start between the end of April and middle of August, and so all of the usual stuff that happens to many teams in the course of a summer. Those teams, however, generally do not conclude those seasons in the World Series.
Come next month, the Dodgers will not have an MVP winner. Or a Cy Young Award contender. They instead will be the first Dodgers team to make back-to-back World Series appearances in 40 years. They have not won one in 30, as they are often reminded.
“Yeah, definitely cognizant,” Kershaw said midway through the NLCS. “No disrespect to 1988, we hear about that a lot. And I’ve said it before, but we are sick of it. And it’s up to us to do something about it, obviously. We need to create some of our own history, for sure.
“I think it stands as a testament to this organization that they have such great history, that they take a lot of pride in their history, which I’m thankful for. I’m thankful to be a part of that and be in this organization. But at the same time if we win one, we might not have to hear about it anymore, which would be awesome.”
The Red Sox did not have anything like the experience the Dodgers did in 2018. They won 108 games and finished eight games ahead of the New York Yankees. They had little trouble taking out the Cleveland Indians and defending World Series champion Houston Astros in earlier playoff rounds. And their own history of dry or dark Octobers ended dramatically in 2004, with a championship of their own. They followed that with World Series wins in 2007 and 2013.
The man who played a small part in launching that run of titles – he stole the base that would lead to the Red Sox beating the New York Yankees in the ALCS that year – manages the Dodgers. Dave Roberts, revered in Boston, has managed the Dodgers for three seasons. Two will end here, in the World Series, with chances to end another, slightly narrower, run of futility. The Dodgers lost a year ago to the Astros in seven games.
Roberts’ counterpart, Alex Cora of the Red Sox, is managing his first season. Cora was drafted by the Dodgers in 1996 and played parts of seven seasons – 1998 to 2004 – in Los Angeles. Roberts also played for the Dodgers. The two were teammates for three seasons. Cora also played for the Red Sox for four seasons, including the 2007 championship team. This is the first World Series in which both managers played for both teams.
Game 1 is Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
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