The Clayton Kershaw slouch in the dugout with a hanging head.
Cody Bellinger looking to the sky with a blank stare after a strikeout.
Dave Roberts staring into the abyss of Dodger stadium, after another blown lead.
This is what the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fans have come to recognize as repeated images over the past five years.
As the Dodgers walked off the field in the first round of the 2019 playoffs upset by a Washington Nationals ballclub who squeaked their way into the playoffs, President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman realized the team he meticulously constructed into a regular season juggernaut piece by piece, was not good enough. A team which made it to two straight World Series and won eight straight National League West Division titles, was missing something. They had the pieces to produce the best record in baseball, and yet still found themselves leaving the playoffs with their heads hanging down. A look Dodgers fans know all too well.
Without adding new pieces, this team would most likely find themselves atop the National League West again, but for the Dodgers organization and the fans of Los Angeles, that is not good enough.
Friedman had to make changes, and not like before, piecing together smaller pieces to add to a machine, but to bring in a machine itself. A player who would not add to the depth of a team, but be the face of a team. That man was 28 year-old Markus Lynn Betts, better known as Mookie.
Betts is one of the premiere players in baseball. A former MVP, 3x All-Star, and 4x Gold-Glove winner, he is a player teams and fans only dream of having. After contract disputes with his team the Boston Red Sox, it became a real possibility a trade was in the works. Just like that, the best player in baseball fell in the lap of the best team in baseball.
February 11, 2020, the Dodgers completed a deal for Mookie Betts, giving away two of their top prospects in the deal. Dodger fans know Betts all too well, as he killed them in the 2018 World Series with the Red Sox, with .308 OBP, scoring five times and having a homerun.
Just before the shortened MLB season, Betts signed a 12-year $392 million deal with Los Angeles. In a matter of months, Friedman did two things never heard of in the Dodger organization: trade prospects for a star and give a player a ten year deal. A team who prides themselves on smart contracts and young talent went against their mantra. So how special do you think they felt Mookie was?
In a shortened season, with no fans in the stands, Betts lit up the Hollywood sky, making Dodger fans jump from their couches and Red Sox cry themselves to sleep for what could have been. In a 60-game season, Betts has a .366 OBP, .927 OPS, and 16 home runs. Like the Dodgers expected and the fans assumed, the production helped them to a Major League best 43-17 record, to win their ninth straight division title. But, this wasn’t the goal. This never was the goal. Division titles are expected. You don’t acquire Mookie Betts to win division titles, you acquire Mookie Betts to win World Series’. Plural.
Headed to the 2020 bubble playoffs, Betts headlined a Dodger team full of stars like Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, and Corey Seager. After a sweep of the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers quickly fell down 3-1 in a best of seven series versus the Atlanta Braves. A similar story was forming. The images of Kershaw slumped with his head hanging and Bellinger swinging through another breaking ball, a story Dodger fans know all too well.
Then, Mookie happened.
Something Dodger fans haven’t seen before.
Mookie Betts became what Dodger fans had been missing in the playoffs for the last nine years, a difference maker. Betts fronted a comeback rarely seen in baseball with offensive prowess and three classic run saving catches.
Down 2-0 with two runners on, Braves Shortstop Dansby Swanson swatted a blooper into right field, destined to be an RBI single. Betts raced from deep in the outfield tracking the ball in shallow right reaching down to his shins where his glove grazed the outfield grass to make the catch. Without this catch the Dodgers go down 3-0 in the game, and the momentum continues to favor the Braves. Instead, the Dodgers stay down 2-0, and Seager lofts a homerun to deep center in the next inning to start an eventual comeback, and win the game 7-3.
In game six, Betts preserved a 3-0 lead by robbing Marcel Ozuna of an extra base hit and a run scored with a sheer sprint to the outfield wall, jumping and twisting his body to make a circus-like catch. Coming down with the ball, he lets out a celebratory roar, pulsating through the stadium. Winning the game 3-1, that left game seven, to complete the mighty comeback.
A game remembered by Cody Bellinger’s go ahead home run in the seventh inning, may have never happened without a catch made in the fifth. The MVP to be, Freddie Freeman launched a ball high into the Texas wind, which sailed over the fence, and over the fence it went. But once again, like clockwork Betts’ glove was there, stopping the ball from meeting it’s destiny, catching the ball. Just like game five, just like game six, Betts’ glove stopped the Braves from scoring, and bolstered the Dodgers with new found energy.
The Dodgers did what only 13 other teams in baseball history have done, coming back and beating the Braves from down 3-1 to advance to the World Series.
In the World Series, Mookie dazzled under the lights, homering in game one, stealing multiple bases leading to a win and capped it off with a homerun in game six, to help the Dodgers win their first title in 32 years.
This time it wasn’t an image of Kershaw people will look back on, but Mookie; Mookie jumping into the Texas air and bringing back a baseball made for the stands. It isn’t Bellinger trudging back to the dugout Dodger fans will think of but Mookie screaming into the night. It isn’t Dave Roberts squinting into the lights of the stadium looking for answers, but Mookie and this Dodgers team, lifting the 2020 World Series trophy. — Joey Balleweg
Photo: Mookie rounding the bases after his eighth inning homerun in Game six (AP Photo/ Sue Ogrocki)