There was no crazy comebacks this time, no stumbling, staggering routes to home plate and no wild outfield celebration like the night before. Some relative normalcy returned to the World Series on Sunday as the Los Angeles Dodgers inched closer to their first title in 32 years.
Not every game can have a zany, madcap ending to it, and for the Dodgers, that was just fine.
Shaking off whatever sting had come via a shocking loss in Game 4 on Saturday, the Dodgers rebounded to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2, in a comparatively straightforward Game 5 of the World Series at Globe Life Field.
The potential tying run did come to the plate again for Tampa Bay, but this time reliever Blake Treinen secured the final out, leaving the Dodgers 27 outs away from that final celebration that has eluded them in two other trips to the Fall Classic in the past three years. Game 6 is on Tuesday, at the same ballpark.
But no team in this World Series has won consecutive games yet, and the pattern held on Sunday as the Rays were unable to capitalize on whatever momentum they might have derived from their exhilarating win in Game 4, which ended when Randy Arozarena tapped home plate after stumbling and falling down the third base line.
There were no such histrionics in this game — although there was a rare attempted steal of home plate at a key moment — as Clayton Kershaw held down the Rays with a strong outing to win his second game in this Series.
On Tuesday, the Rays will send their ace, Blake Snell, to the mound against Tony Gonsolin of Los Angeles to try to prevent the Dodgers from winning their first World Series since 1988. Snell beat the Dodgers in Game 2, and Tampa Bay may need more of the same in order to force a Game 7.
“He threw so great the other night,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said of Snell. “He’s a big-time pitcher and he likes the big stage. So, we feel really good about ourselves with him up there.”
On Sunday, the Dodgers started Kershaw, one of the best pitchers in the club’s long history. Kershaw has his own history of inconsistencies in the postseason, but in this series he has delivered when asked. He allowed only one run in Game 1 and followed that up on Sunday by allowing two runs in five and two-thirds innings. He recorded six strikeouts, giving him 207 in his postseason career, which broke the record of 205 held by Justin Verlander.
When he walked off the mound at the park in Arlington, Texas, he heard a standing ovation from the many Dodgers fans who seemed to represent the dominant majority of the 11,437 announced attendance.
“I know what the other end of that feels like, too,” said Kershaw, who grew up nearby in the Dallas area. “So I’ll definitely take it when I can get it.”
Kershaw was the beneficiary of an early 2-0 lead as the Dodgers jumped on Rays starter Tyler Glasnow in the top of the first and never trailed in the game. It was a return to the Series trend: In Game 4 there were four lead changes, but the first three games had none.
The Dodgers added to their lead in the second inning when Joc Pederson homered with the bases empty to give Los Angeles a 3-0 lead. It was Pederson’s ninth postseason home run, and his fifth career World Series homer across his three trips with the Dodgers.
“They don’t call it Joctober for nothing,” said Max Muncy, who also homered.
The Rays struck back in the third, as Kiermaier led off with an infield single and then scored on a one-out triple by Yandy Diaz, the leadoff hitter for Tampa Bay. Arozarena then singled on a high, hanging breaking ball from Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ lead was trimmed to 3-2. But Kershaw escaped further trouble by striking out Brandon Lowe, and Arozarena was thrown out trying to steal second base.
But that would not be the last time a Rays players was cut down trying to steal. The more memorable instance began when Manuel Margot led off the fourth by drawing a walk against Kershaw, and then stole second base. The throw to second base by catcher Austin Barnes was wild, dribbling into the outfield, and Margot hustled to third. Kershaw walked Hunter Renfroe but proceeded to record two outs.
Then, in a play that hadn’t happened in the World Series for 18 years, Margot attempted to steal home. Kershaw, a left-hander with his back to third base, also has a unique windup, in which he pauses with his arms high in the air. That was the moment Margot broke.
“I thought I had a chance,” said Margot, who made the decision to go on his own. “It didn’t work out.”
Kershaw said Carlos Gomez of the Astros had once tried the same thing against him, also with two outs, and credited that experience with helping him. When he saw Margot exploding for home from first base, Muncy yelled out for Kershaw to, “Step off, step off,” meaning step off the pitcher’s rubber and fire the ball to the catcher. Kershaw maintained his composure, did exactly as Muncy said, and threw to Barnes, who tagged Margot’s hand an instant before it touched the plate.
After the out call by home plate umpire Marvin Hudson, Margot signaled to the bench for them to ask for a review because he felt he was safe. But after checking the replay, Rays Manager Kevin Cash, who deferred to Margot’s judgment after the game on whether to attempt such a bold play, opted to let the call stand as it was.
“I thought it was really close,” Margot said. “They didn’t challenge it.”
And so the Rays, trailing by a run, came away with nothing despite placing runners at first and third with no outs. The Dodgers made them pay in the next half-inning when Muncy hit a towering blast to right field off a 99 mile-per-hour fastball from Glasnow. As soon as the ball hit the bat, there was no question whether it would go over the fence, and Muncy stood and admired the shot before breaking into his home run trot.
“Thankfully, I got it in the air and didn’t have to run too hard,” Muncy said
With a two-run lead going into the ninth inning, Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager, decided not to use Kenley Jansen to record the save. Jansen blew the save opportunity in Game 4, and Roberts instead went with Treinen, who got the final three outs for the save.
Roberts has faced criticism in the past for postseason pitching decisions, including in Game 4 when he brought Pedro Baez back one inning after he had given up a three-run home run, and Baez surrendered another homer.
But all of Roberts’ decisions proved to be the correct ones on Sunday, including taking Kershaw out of the game in the sixth inning to bring in Dustin May.
The result was a Dodgers team being one win away from its first World Series in over a quarter of a century.
“We’re going to enjoy tomorrow as an off day, get guys rested and focused on Game 6,” Roberts said. “Gonsolin is going to start, and we expect to win.”