In these odd days of neutral-site playoffs and quarantine bubbles, the Dodgers played their 13th game in 17 days in this spanking-new ballpark in the suburbs of Dallas, and like eight of the previous 12, this one ended in a victory. In a thorough and unexpectedly easy 6-2 win, they ambushed Rays starter Charlie Morton, collected home runs from Justin Turner and Austin Barnes and rode young ace Walker Buehler for six dazzling innings.
The Dodgers lead the best-of-seven series, two games to one, with Game 4 on Saturday night.
Through three games, the overarching characteristic of this World Series has been its utter lack of drama: All three games have seen one team open up a five-run lead by the fifth inning, and there have been no lead changes. Only once, in the eighth inning of Game 2, has the trailing team brought the potential tying run to the plate after the sixth.
The Texas Rangers moved into this building — price tag: $1.2 billion — at the start of this season and played 30 games here, hitting a total of 27 homers in those games. The stadium quickly gained a reputation as a place where homers go to die.
The Dodgers, though, have exploded that notion. They have played 16 games at Globe Life Field, including three in the regular season, and have hit 29 homers — two more than the Rangers hit here all season. On Friday night, Turner took Morton over the wall in left in the first — matching the number of earned runs Morton had allowed across his first three starts of this postseason — and Barnes went yard against right-hander John Curtiss in the sixth.
Friday’s plot twist came hours before first pitch, when MLB made the decision to close the retractable roof at Globe Life Field, owing to a forecast of low-50s temperatures and a chance of rain later in the night. Official attendance at the first indoor game with fans during this MLB season: 11,447.
The Rays had never set foot in Globe Life Field before Monday’s pre-series workout, and nobody was fooled by them wearing their home whites and getting the benefit of having their own, familiar walk-up songs and the more enthusiastic introductions by the public address announcer. The crowd was overwhelmingly on the side of the visitors.
With the roof closed, the expectation was that the stadium would play bigger, with the Rays’ in-house analysts estimating it would cost flyballs an extra 10 to 15 feet of carry. Los Angeles’s Will Smith and Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena both hit towering drives to the warning track in straightaway center that might have left the yard had the roof remained open.
And so the Dodgers, who led the majors this season in home runs and slugging percentage, turned back the clock. Their two-run fourth inning was straight out of the small-ball aesthetic of the 1980s — three singles, a stolen base and a safety squeeze: The sacrifice bunt was laid down expertly by Barnes, who had two of the Dodgers’ three sacrifices in the regular season and — in the latest sign of how profoundly the game has changed in recent years — was the first executed by a National League team in these playoffs.
“That’s something we’ve done before. I had a feeling it was coming,” Barnes said. “And I just had to execute. The runners did a good job of selling it, and when you really sell it, it’s a tough play to defend.”
The Dodgers started Barnes at catcher Friday night instead of Smith, who served as designated hitter, largely for his pitch-framing skills — the dark art of turning borderline balls into borderline strikes with a subtle shift of the mitt to fool the home plate umpire’s eyes. As a hitter, well, Barnes is an elite pitch-framer.
Buehler, meanwhile, carried a no-hitter into the fifth, struck out 10 batters across his six innings — the most strikeouts in a World Series start that short — and looked as if he could throw 98 mph bullets all night if the Dodgers needed him to. But with a safe lead, they pulled him after 93 pitches — in case they might need him again in a decisive Game 7. And in doing so, the seven-inning start faded deeper into the recesses of history: Only two starters have completed seven innings since the start of the division series, with none in this series.
Buehler’s fastball touched 99 mph. Occasionally, he would stand on the mound and tilt his head from one side to the other, as if pondering an especially deep thought or stretching his neck muscles, then throw his body toward the plate with such force, his follow-through landed with a small bunny-hop. His career ERA in 11 postseason starts: 2.35.
“He was unbelievable,” Barnes said. “That might be the best I’ve ever seen his stuff.”
The Dodgers’ pounding of Morton gave them a measure of sweet revenge: When they last saw him on this stage, he was shutting them down for the final four innings of Game 7 of the World Series for the Houston Astros, whose title was later tainted by the revelations of a sign-stealing scheme.
The Dodgers scored four of their runs off Morton on Friday night with two outs — continuing a remarkable trend: A staggering 50 of the Dodgers’ 87 runs in this postseason have come with two outs, a record.
“It’s just not giving up. There’s two outs, but you can still build an inning, not giving away at-bats,” right fielder Mookie Betts said of the Dodgers’ success with two outs. “That’s the recipe. That’s how you win a World Series.”
Betts, the former American League MVP acquired in a blockbuster trade from Boston in February, is the most obvious answer to the question of what is different about the Dodgers’ offense this year. But another, less obvious reason is their ability to deliver big hits with runners in scoring position. It has been a glaring failure for the Dodgers in past postseason flameouts: They hit .226 with RISP in 2017, .192 in 2018 and .135 in 2019. They lost in the World Series in 2017 and 2018 and in the division series last fall.
This postseason, however, they are hitting .279 with an .879 on-base-plus-slugging percentage with runners in scoring position — numbers that exceed their overall production. Dodgers hitters are noticeably altering their approaches and shortening their swings to drive home those runs — as Max Muncy did on a full-count, two-run single to right-center in the third.
“It’s not always about driving the ball,” Betts said. “We’ve proven we can do that, and we’ve proven we can take our singles too. There’s a time and place to do both.”
With lefty Julio Urías set to start Game 4 on Saturday night — with the Rays looking at a bullpen game started by Ryan Yarbrough — and veteran lefty Clayton Kershaw slated for Game 5 on Sunday night, the Dodgers could have their first World Series title since 1988 wrapped up by the end of the weekend.
At the other extreme, should the series go to the distance, the Dodgers still would have on the mound the one pitcher they would handpick if given the choice of anyone on their roster, if not in the entire sport: Walker Buehler. They would also be the home team, naturally.
Dave Sheinin reported this story from Arlington, Tex. The live updates below were reported by Scott Allen from Washington.
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