LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers hadn’t played a World Series game since 1988, but you would never have known, unless you read the thousands of articles or listened to the thousands of on-air discussions that mentioned this. I, uh, might have used YouTube videos once or twice or a few times to emphasize this point. It was an easy target. Pick a pop culture moment from ‘88, laugh at how dated it was, and tie the Dodgers into it.
I mean, look at Orel Hershiser’s sweater here:
But those callbacks and references were all trying too hard. If you wanted a perfect example of how long it’s been for the Dodgers, it’s been right in front of us all along. It goes something like this:
The last time the Dodgers were in the World Series, Dodger Stadium wasn’t that old.
It was just a stadium. It was 26 years old, which is exactly how old Guaranteed Rate Field is right now. That’s not an old ballpark. It’s basically brand new. And when the Dodgers were in the World Series last, it wasn’t like they were playing in a museum.
It’s a museum now, though.
Like how it's still 1973 here. pic.twitter.com/B3cBh3IGGu— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) October 25, 2017
Dodger Stadium is the third oldest ballpark in baseball, behind Fenway and Wrigley, and it lets you know this, constantly. The last time the Dodgers were in the World Series, it was a regular ol’ ballpark. Now it’s a time machine that takes you back to the days of those fonts, those façades. When you walk into the place, names might pop into your head. Scully. Koufax. Drysdale. It’s where Kirk Gibson fired up the invisible chainsaw as he rounded second base. They don’t have a tribute to their proud Gold Glove winners. They have a freaking wing of Gold Gloves.
The entire park is festooned with jerseys and awards and memorabilia, and it should be. It’s all history in this ballpark. But the funny thing about history is that it happened a long time ago.
This is the backdrop to the Dodgers playing their first World Series game in nearly three decades. It’s like the current roster is busting their ass on the JV squad, but everyone keeps sharing newspaper clippings of what their older brother did years ago, and they can feel it every time they walk into the clubhouse.
You can understand why the current Dodgers would want to change that.
Clayton Kershaw doesn’t linger over the Hall of Gold Gloves as he starts his workday. He’s not worried about the monuments of retired numbers outside of the park, and he’s not worried about the collection of Warren C. Giles trophies on display. He’s worried about the present, the present, the present, not the past. If he were worried about the past, he would crumple into a tiny ball, like most of us.
This is because the past for the Dodgers isn’t all trophies and awards, especially when it comes to Kershaw’s era. There’s pain baked in. It’s recent and fresh, and the wounds are open. Kershaw has to think about Matt Adams when he closes his eyes, at least part of the time. He probably doesn’t think a lot about Hanley Ramirez just missing an inning-ending catch before that mess happened ...
... but he could. He could also complain about his team not scoring for him. He has a right to do all of that.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter, that was then, this is now, and what’s a Matt Adams, really? Something from another era, move on.
It’s with this mindset that Kershaw approaches his goal, which is to throw a white sphere with red seams in a way that the other team either hits it weakly or misses it entirely. It doesn’t sound so hard, except for the part where it’s just about the hardest job on the planet. No pitcher has been reminded of how tough it can be, over and over again, exactly at the wrong times. There’s always a Matt Adams or a Dexter Fowler. There’s always a seventh inning.
In Game 1 of the 2017 World Series, though, there were none of those things. There was just Clayton Kershaw, spotting his fastball like a 43-year-old Bartolo Colon, sliding his slider like Randy Johnson, and mixing in a rainbow curve every so often, like Sandy Koufax, whose three championships and career 0.95 postseason ERA are a hovering well, actually cloud that’s forever hanging over Kershaw’s Dodger legacy.
For the first time in Kershaw’s postseason career, though, he wasn’t beaten like an ornery mule throughout October.
For the last four postseasons, the Dodgers have used Kershaw on short rest in the NLDS. They’ve won their division titles handily, which allowed them to line their ace up for Game 1, just like they would want it. And then they would bring him back on short rest on game four when they wanted to a) close out a series they were leading or b) save a series they were trailing. Every danged time.
In this new Dodgers era, they’ve avoided grinding Kershaw into a powder that they can distribute to the rest of the team for its psychotropic effects. He pitches five innings, and if the Dodgers have a lead, cool. The bullpen’s got it. If he pitches six innings, and the Dodgers have a lead, cool. The bullpen’s got it. And in this game, if he’s really at his best, he pitches seven innings. The bullpen’s got it.
The history was hanging around this start, both the lingering history of the distant past and the festering history of the recent past. When the game was over, it was replaced with a new chapter. Here lies Game 1 of the 2017 World Series, in which Clayton Kershaw peeled the skin back from his opponents and fashioned it into a bowtie, which he presented to Ken Rosenthal, saying, “I think you should wear this to raise awareness of the Astros, who just had their skin flayed from their backs and removed. By me.” It was cold, calculating, and horrifying in its efficiency. It was also one of the best individual performances in Dodgers history since they’ve moved to Los Angeles.
It made Dodger Stadium feel so modern.
And if we’re going to talk about history and the place of the 2017 Dodgers, let’s talk about Chris Taylor being the first Dodger to see a pitch in 29 years in the World Series and hitting it hard enough to fracture space and time.
Dallas Keuchel worked hard, studied the scouting reports, concentrated, focused, took deep breathes, envisioned how his first World Series experience was going to go, and his first pitch went here:
Keuchel was so optimistic before that pitch.
But that first pitch was a sinker that didn’t much sink, and it was hit into the Sea of Tranquility by a guy who came out of the baseball mists in the spring.
It’s disingenuous to suggest the Dodgers have never had a player come of nowhere quite like Taylor. Koufax was a wild mess in his early 20s, and you wouldn’t have wanted him on your fantasy team. Maury Wills was a 26-year-old rookie with a .298 on-base percentage and a .298 slugging percentage. There have been Dodger surprises before, and there will be Dodger surprises again.
There don’t have to be surprises this fortuitously timed, though. The Dodgers scuffled, and Joc Pederson didn’t progress as hoped, but guess what? This random shortstop they acquired from the Mariners can also play center. Isn’t that wild? He’s like a center-shortstop hybrid who can also hit like an all-star. Is that valuable? That seems valuable.
The Dodgers waited three decades for a World Series game, and then their fans waited two seconds to transform into pure energy. They got that moment from a player who factored into exactly zero preseason predictions and forecasts, from a player who was as likely to be a part of Dodger Stadium history as Zach Lee, if he signs in 2023 as a free agent after a successful Mariners career.
The history started to bleed together with the present after one stinking pitch.
This brings us to Justin Turner, or, as I like to call him, “the old Chris Taylor.” He’s on the Dodgers’ roster through similar witchery, and he’s suddenly the most fearsome postseason hitter the game has ever seen, someone who benefits disproportionately from extra time to study his adversaries, it seems.
After 29 years, he’s the hero of the night, and what did it take? Oh, nothing, really. Just ...
- Thirty teams passing on him five times or more in the 2006 Draft
- The Reds trading him to the Orioles for a 33-year-old catcher
- The Orioles designating him for assignment
- The Mets giving up on him
- The Dodgers being his hometown team, which convinced him to take a non-guaranteed minor-league deal, which is bananas for someone in that precarious of a career crossroads.
- The Dodgers helping him reinvent himself
- There was a wedding involved? Look, I don’t know ...
That’s what it took for Turner to be employed by the Dodgers on Oct. 24th, 2017. What it took for him to be the hero was the slow heat-death of the world.
Because there were two outs, the heat may have changed the narrative from "Astros starter Dallas Keuchel escapes the inning with a 1-1 tie" to "Turner gives the Dodgers a 3-1 lead they never relinquished."
"When it's that hot here, the ball does travel a lot better," Turner added, "And if it's 10 degrees cooler, that's probably a routine fly ball in left field."
Nothing about Turner makes sense. Nothing about this situation made sense, none of it. The heat, Kershaw having to prove himself for some stupid reason, Taylor, the heat, Turner’s metamorphosis, the heat ... none of it.
And it makes you realize just how little sense all of that history made back then, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s. All of those transactions falling into place, like a big Rube Goldberg machine, all of the players who could have gone down one possible career path, but instead went down the path that led to shiny trophies in an old ballpark. Orel Hershiser was drafted in the 17th round of the 1979 draft, nine picks after Galdenio Noda. That’s absurd. It’s all absurd. But you’re here because some very specific monkeys decided to do it eight million years ago, so it all makes sense.
Turner is a fine entry into that legacy of nonsense. Which is another way of saying that he’s a fine entry into this Dodgers legacy of carefully curated majesty and success. They’re synonymous, really.
The Dodgers didn’t play in a World Series game for decades because of a surfeit of nonsense. Now they have a surplus, and it’s fitting in beautifully with the team’s history, where they bullied other teams and outplayed and outmaneuvered them.
They have a World Series win for the first time since Kershaw was ambulatory. They have a World Series win for the first time since Dodger Stadium became an old stadium with an old soul and stories to tell.
They have a World Series win. Now they just need three more, like the Indians last year. Just like the Royals the year before that. The rest of the story will matter very much to Dodgers fans. But before Game 2, it doesn’t mean much at all. They have a slice of history, and it took 29 years to get it. Savoring the hell out of it is recommended.