Julio Urias saw the sign from catcher Austin Barnes. He inhaled, and then threw his fastest pitch of the year, a 97 mph bullet perfectly dotted on the inside corner of the zone. It was strike three. It was the 27th out. It was the pitch that ended a 32 year long championship drought for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Urias roared, Barnes pocketed the baseball and flung his gloves and helmet to sky. The first base dugout exploded as AJ Pollock, Brusdar Graterol, Pedro Baez, Alex Wood, and Victor Gonzalez all sprinted out of. Corey Seager and Kiké Hernandez screamed and hugged in the air. Max Muncy and Edwin Rios sprinted to the dugout. Blake Treinen was out of the bullpen so fast that he almost beat outfielders Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Chris Taylor to the dogpile on the pitcher's mound. Clayton Kershaw, in the bullpen, just in case, finally, FINALLY, a World Series Champion, raised his arms in triumph, had a moment, and then jogged out to the mound with fellow ace Walker Buehler. And everything was right in the world. Balance had been restored to the Force.
This Dodgers team, no doubt one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the sports history, was different than its predecessors even though the roster had largely been the same for the last 3-4 years. This team hit with 2 outs and runners in scoring position. This team had a fairly reliable bullpen. Essentially, the 2020 Dodgers didn't underperform in the playoffs, like so many of its previous incarnations. In fact, they elevated their play to the moment, something that the '13-'19 teams had failed to do (2017 notwithstanding).
So what was the difference? Was it Mookie Betts? Was it Clayton Kershaw's increased velocity and better management? Was it Corey Seager's return to the hitter he was pre-injury? There's no real way to know, as, obviously, it's a combination of these things. Betts brought the determination, grit, and just pure talent. Kershaw pitched his heart out and finally got some run support. Seager showed the world what we already knew. It was a little bit of everything, which is why they won. Teams that win the World Series need a little bit of everything. The less flashy narratives, Walker Buehler pitching through multiple blisters, Julio Urias having a historically good postseason and functioning as a swiss army knife, and the bullpen having the depth to dominate in games where the starters couldn't go long.
Would any of the previous Dodgers division winners have come back from being down 3-1 in the NLCS to the Braves? Probably not. This team did, though. They turned it the hell on. They showed the world who they were, they showed their character in that series and then dominated in the World Series (let's not talk about Game 4, it doesn't matter).
They're not chokers, they're champions. And they're just getting started.
Photo Credit: Dodgers Twitter