Give this Dodgers' title an asterisk, one that signifies a season of unique difficulty
Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin pitches in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Tuesday.
Put the asterisk on this season.
This Dodgers Championship, won Tuesday night in Game 6 of the World Series with a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, should stand out. Not because it was easier. Or because a title somehow meant less this year.
On the contrary, at least according to the Dodgers.
This pandemic-altered season was not only different from any other, players believe it was harder than any before - a test of mental strength and personal sacrifice that should be accompanied by a footnote treated with additional appreciation that should be forever should be seen in a different light.
"In many ways," said Justin Turner before the game, "it was more of a challenge."
This certainly turned out to be for Turner, who tested positive for the coronavirus and was removed in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday. It was a sobering reminder of how the postseason could be jeopardized by the virus at any point.
The season was shorter, but the playoffs were longer. There was less travel, but more stress. The Dodgers had the best record in the National League, but enjoyed virtually none of the perks of a regular No. 1 seed. And after following health and safety protocols all season, they spent the final three rounds of the playoffs in a makeshift hotel bubble in North Texas.
When it all finally came to an end and 32 years of waiting for the Dodgers' seventh championship, the celebration of the team at Globe Life Field made it clear.
This performance was not normal. It meant so much more.
"All of the things that we had to deal with - you could argue that it's even more difficult," said manager Dave Roberts. "We're not even talking about the playoff format, just all of the things we had to do as opposed to the long, rigorous six-week spring training, 162, the regular format."
The post-game celebration underscored much of the uncertainty this season. Turner came out of the dugout knowing he had tested positive, but posed for photos with the trophy and exchanged handshakes and hugs with his teammates - some masked, some not.
Andrew Friedman, president of the baseball operations team, stated after the game that most of the people in the Dodgers Bubble had already been exposed to gymnasts.
"Now it's important that we all test negative no matter how often or whatever the logs are to make sure we don't run out and potentially give it to someone else," Friedman said. "We were all in a bubble, so I think the contact and interaction between us who were in that bubble is pretty high."
With this in mind, however, there was one question that was particularly missing at post-game press conferences. The validity of this title was no longer in doubt.
The Dodgers had been pressured on the issue of legitimacy since the start of the season that summer. Many wondered if a championship this fall would fill the void left by the World Series defeats in two of the past three years, or whether the alleged title favorites could really reach their potential in a regular season of just 60 games.
However, the team's answers have never wavered.
"Of course we understand it's a different season," Turner said ahead of Tuesday's game. “That was one of the first things we talked about when we were together again: you see, no matter how many games we play, no matter what the postseason is, if there is a championship to be won, we will strive for that and do everything in our power to bring it home. "
Baseball alone was tough enough, especially in a postseason when the Dodgers with the best seeds were crapshoot best-of-three wildcard series, forcing them to a seven-game National League championship series in seven days to play and they pitted against the best team from the American League.
But all of the other factors - the social distancing requirements and constant COVID testing and removal of in-game video reviews, and the general uncertainty of a season amid a global health crisis - have weighed heavily on the Dodgers as well.
"I think it was more of a challenge for us to get out of the field," said Kiké Hernández, whose wife is about to have their first child. “The whole COVID thing has affected a lot of people's routines. I'm from Puerto Rico and I haven't seen my family in a long time. I think there are a lot of people in this clubhouse who can share this feeling and have not seen their families in a long time. Besides baseball, the biggest challenge was dealing with everyday life. "
These glitches will not go away anytime soon. However, the triumph on Tuesday made them feel far more manageable. For the Dodgers the steepest mountain has now been climbed. Your most difficult task has culminated in a long-awaited title.
"There shouldn't be an asterisk," said Roberts. "And I stand by it."
Or at least not a footnote with a negative connotation. Perhaps a gold star instead, or an underlined stress in MLB's record books.
This wasn't a normal championship, after all. An improved distinction is probably deserved.
"There are a lot of things that go with it," Turner said before scrutinizing his post-game celebration when he simply claimed a World Series ring was still on his mind. "You can make an argument to say that it could be more difficult."
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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