Put the goat milk down

As Randy Arozarena pounds the plate celebrating the Game Four-winning run, Max Muncy—whose spot-on relay throw home bumped away wild—looks momentarily shell shocked.

Very well, I surrender for the time being. Nothing written or said by me or anyone is going to stop Joe and Jane Fan from hanging the goat horns on any or all of Kenley Jansen, Chris Taylor, and Will Smith.

As if they’re anticipating yet another Los Angeles Dodgers full postseason meltdown from there. As if to prove myself and others right when we say baseball fans too often prefer a glass of goat milk to the hero sandwich.

As if Tampa Bay spare part Brett Phillips didn’t nail Jansen’s errant off the middle pitch for that floating line single whose hop began the chain of events that turned a certain Dodgers win and 3-1 Series advantage into an 8-7 Rays win and maybe the . . . third most devastating loss in Dodger history? The fourth?

It can’t ever be the other guys being a little more heads-up and winning. It can only be our guys blowing it higher than Old Faithful. It can only ever be our guys leaving the front door open for them to rob us so blind we’re lucky if they left a couple of napkins behind while absconding with the cash, silver, and jewels.

Thus was Game Four of this Wild Series nothing to do with the Rays hanging in tenaciously and finding their way back to timely hitting, but everything to do with the Dodgers hell bent for becoming eight-straight division winners who found ways to turn championship-caliber teams into the 1962 New York Mets.

“I been in this game a hundred years but I see new ways to lose I never knew were invented yet,” those Mets’ manager Casey Stengel liked to say. Far as Joe and Jane Dodger fan are concerned, those Mets had nothing on these Dodgers, and it’s easier to turn Donald Trump into an educated thinker than to imagine those Mets within two coasts distance of a World Series.

Saturday night’s frights only sent the Dodgers into Game Five in a head heat with the upstart, upset-minded, 99 Cent Store-budget, wing-prayer-and-wishes Rays. This Series has a minimum two more games to go. The worst case scenario after the hapless Taylor and Smith performed their leathery Ricochet Rabbit ball act was future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw pitching a possible tiebreaker instead of the Promised Land game.

You want worse Dodger defeats than Game Four? Here’s a roll for you:

Game Four, 1941 World Series. (Mickey Owen drops the strike that would have tied that Series at two.)

Game Three, 1951 National League pennant playoff. (Ralph Branca. Bobby Thomson. The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!)

Game Six, 1985 National League Championship Series. (Sure it’s safe to pitch to Jack [the Ripper] Clark with first base open and the Dodgers an out from forcing Game Seven.)

Game Seven, 2017 World Series. (Yu Darvish tipping pitches and bushwhacked in the first two innings, little knowing those Houston Astros played the full season with a stacked camera and monitor and an empty trash can.)

Game Five, 2015 National League division series. (Back-to-back tying homers from Washington’s Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto; ultimate winner: ex-Dodger Howie Kendrick slicing salami in the tenth.)

So you want to condemn Jansen, Taylor, and Smith to the same Phantom Zone where live the goats of baseball past? Feel free if you must. The rest of us will continue to forgive. Well, maybe we won’t forgive Jansen too soon for neglecting to back up the plays at the plate. Even if he couldn’t have stopped Randy Arozarena from diving home after the relay escaped Smith, Jansen should have been there regardless.

But we’ll forgive Jansen the pitch Phillips tagged. We’ll forgive him because .202-hitting spare parts aren’t supposed to hit established closers even for floating line drives and the percentages on 1-2 were in his favour.

We’ll forgive him because who the hell knew such a spaghetti bat would turn the finish into veal parmigiana. We’ll forgive Taylor and Smith, too, because we know in our hearts and guts they committed errors of anxious anticipation.

Taylor couldn’t wait to field Phillips’s floater on the hop and throw to his cutoff man Max Muncy—until the hop bounded off his glove’s fingers. Smith couldn’t wait to get the tag on Randy Arozarena—until Muncy’s relay glanced off his mitt as he turned for the tag . . . and learned the hard way Arozarena tripped over himself halfway down the third base line while the ball traveled to the track well behind the plate.

And if you, Joe and Jane Fan, won’t forgive, we who know your rage and sorrow obstruct your vision and thought will forgive them for you. The Dodgers lost a ballgame on Friday night. They didn’t lose a third lease on the Promised Land in four years. Yet. The Rays won a ballgame Friday night. They haven’t crossed the Jordan. Yet.

We’ll forgive Jansen, Taylor, and Smith just the way we should have forgiven Fred Merkle, Freddie Lindstrom, Ernie Lombardi, Mickey Owen, Johnny Pesky, Ralph Branca, Gene Mauch, Tom Niedenfuer, Tommy Lasorda, Bill Buckner, John McNamara, Grady Little, all Cubs from 1909-2015, all Red Sox from 1918-2013, all Giants from 1963-2009, all Phillies from 1900-1979/1981-2008, and maybe even a couple of Yankees from last year and this.

We’ll forgive them just the way we should forgive every Diamondback since 2002, every Brave other than those from 1995, every Oriole since 1983, every Red (except one) since 1991, every Tiger since 1985, and every Angel other than those from 2002.

Just the way we should forgive every Brewer, Padre, Mariner, and Ranger so far. Not to mention every St. Louis Brown who ever walked the face of the earth and every Washington Senator who walked it from 1925-71.

We’ll forgive them because Thomas Boswell was right when he wrote, in 1990, “The reason we don’t forgive you is because there’s nothing to forgive in the first place. You tried your best and failed. In games, there’s a law that says somebody has to lose.” It would be easier to amend the U.S. Constitution than to overturn that law.

To err is human . . . and ties a Wild Series

Brett Phillips hits the single heard ’round the world Friday night in the ninth . . .

The unhappiest place on earth Saturday night simply had to be wherever Kenley Jansen, Chris Taylor, and Will Smith were after World Series Game Four ended. If you still find them there today, please resist the temptation to pound pairs of goat horns onto their heads. No matter how many real, aspiring, or alleged prose poets insist on leading you there.

Until further notice—and the way this Wild Series is rounding, bumping, and stumbling into shape, further notice could come as soon as Game Five—Jansen, Taylor and Smith were the three most deeply wounded or sick men on the planet who aren’t suffering COVID-19. They don’t need gasoline poured onto the flames inside their souls, even if Jansen might be more worthy of a critique than Taylor and Smith.

But Brett Phillips may also have been the single highest young man on the planet who needed no alcohol or marijuana to get there, among a crowd of Tampa Bay Rays teammates who probably thought they were somewhere near Phillips’s cloud after what he triggered in the bottom of the ninth.

“The Rays are going to ask for the biggest hit in the life of Brett Phillips,” purred Fox Sports play-by-play man Joe Buck, just before Jansen turned and delivered on 1-2. Nobody says Jansen intended to help Phillips answer in the affirmative. And Phillips, the Floridian who grew up a Rays fan in the first place, wanted nothing more than a simple line-moving base hit.

The ones you should feel for truly are Taylor and Smith. Jansen got into trouble not just by failing to make the pitch that ended up ending Game Four but by failing almost inexplicably to back up home plate, when his proper presence might have choked the Rays off at the pass enough to send the game to extra innings instead of an 8-7 Dodgers loss. Might.

The husky righthander intended anything but throwing Phillips a grapefruit to line softly but surely past the Dodgers’ right-side infield shift and into right center field for a base hit when the Rays were down to their final strike and a 3-1 Series deficit, with Clayton Kershaw looming to start Game Five.

But Taylor didn’t see the ball shoot off Phillips’s bat intending to let it carom off the fingers of his glove when he ran in to play the hop and had his eye just long enough on Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier rounding third that he cheated himself out of a clean play. And Taylor didn’t hit his cutoff man Max Muncy past first base with a perfect strike just so Muncy’s relay down the line to Smith could bounce off the edge of Smith’s mitt at the split second the catcher began turning to make a sweeping tag at the plate—unaware that trail runner Randy Arozarena wasn’t even close to scoring yet.

Smith certainly didn’t intend for Muncy’s relay to ricochet behind his right side and all the way to the track behind the plate area. He simply didn’t see Arozarena tripping into a tumblesault halfway down the third base line, scrambling back toward third, before realising the ball escaped in the first place.

“Obviously, Will can’t see that Arozarena fell,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts postgame. “Unfortunately, it was like that ‘unperfect’ storm. Just unfortunate.” The manager may have his flaws, but understatement isn’t one of them. This “unperfect” storm became a tsunami in almost a blink.

Arozarena recovered, dove, and pounded his hand on the plate nine times before he finally stood up with his team the winner. That ball might never have gone all the way back, though, if Jansen had backed up the plate the way pitchers are trained to a fare-thee-well to do.

Instead of saving the Dodgers’ hides and sending Game Four to extra innings, perhaps, Jansen inexplicably went toward the third base line almost in a jog. He stood next to it as Smith finished the ball-less sweep tag on a runner yet to arrive, and only as Arozarena finally shot toward the plate as Smith scampered back in a futile bid to retrieve the ball did Jansen run toward the plate.

Then he ran past it, and around the back of it while Arozarena landed with the winning run. He probably wanted to run through the clubhouse, out of the building, and into that Texas night and oblivion if he could have found it. Instead, Jansen faced the press, credited the hitters for doing their jobs, but couldn’t let himself own the backup lapse.

“Yeah, I mean, you know I tried to see, you know, what could I do,” Jansen said postgame. “I could’ve run a little bit more and then just see the play. But like I say, we came up short today, tomorrow’s another day and we’re going to come out there and give everything we’ve got and try to win ballgames.”

This oft-bruised relief pitcher usually faced up to disaster without flinching or ducking during a too-heavy host of Dodgers postseason calamities past. Now, he couldn’t bring himself at last to admit he’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time, when a little more hustle might have given the Dodgers at least one more inning to play, one more inning to make a Series advantage. Might.

How long before it really sinks in for one and all that the possible most insane finish to any World Series game ever came down to the last man sitting on the Rays’ bench? A guy who’d played in parts of four major league seasons, barely hit above the notorious Mendoza Line, and never hit a game-winning anything until the Rays were down to their final Game Four strike?

“When these guys were in the [2008] World Series,” the happy hero said postgame, “I was in eighth grade watching them. And now to be a part of it, helping these guys win a World Series game, it’s special.”

And how long before the “double Buckner” riffing on social media dissipates? Bad enough the late Bill Buckner was given too many years of unwarranted hell despite his moment of horror meaning only that his Boston Red Sox would get to play a Game Seven. Jansen, Taylor, and Smith’s moments of horror mean only that this Series is tied.

Jansen (74) could barely admit he’d blown it by not backing the plate when Smith lost the relay throw.

Nor was this quite ancient Dodgers catcher named Mickey Owen letting a Game Four-ending strike three become a passed ball, enabling Tommy Henrich to reach first starting a game-winning rally giving the Yankees a 3-1 Series lead instead of tying the Series at two each.

Short memories may be alien to Joe and Jane Fan who often leave you wondering what they crave more, the hero sandwich or a glass of goat’s milk. But they’re absolute requirements for a baseball player’s professional survival, as one reporter surely knew when asking Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner postgame just how that ninth-inning calamity could have happened while describing it in perfect thumbnail.

“You pretty much saw it,” Turner replied with a slightly dazed expression, before repeating the thumbnail in his own words and returning to standard boilerplate: show up, do the work, figure out a way to win tomorrow. Lucky for both teams that there would be a tomorrow.

The Dodgers thought for a moment that they’d send Clayton Kershaw out to the Game Five mound with a 3-1 Series advantage and just nine innings away from the Promised Land at last. Now Kershaw will pitch the biggest game of his life just to break a tie and leave Roberts to ponder whether to go for a bullpen Game Six or shove every one of his chips to the middle of the table with Walker Buehler starting on short rest.

As God and His servant Stengel are my witnesses, I swear to you that Rays manager Kevin Cash didn’t have Taylor misplaying Phillips’s line single or Smith mishandling the relay throw home in mind when he said and meant that, “eventually,” his team would get some bounces going their way.

A-ro-za-rena (as Buck pronounced it while he rounded third), his record-setting bombardier with nine this postseason, after a leadoff deficit-halving launch in the fourth, bouncing back up from that trip-and-tumble to shoot home with the game-winning run? Not even close to a flicker in Cash’s thinking.

“We’d tied the ballgame,” the manager said postgame, “so you’re feeling better, and then you’re sitting there saying, ‘My gosh, can this go any worse?’ There was so much that went through that game right there that I probably don’t even have the best recall right now.”

He did mean things like ten Rays hits including three homers and seven official runs batted in. He did mean bounces on balls the Rays put into play, including the broken-bat balloon shot Kiermaier—whose seventh-inning homer re-tied the game at six—lofted just past onrushing Dodgers second baseman Enrique Hernandez with one out in the ninth.

Maybe the only thing Cash could have predicted was Phillips having the fortitude not to let two strike calls that should have made the count 3-0 and not 1-2 rattle him. Subsequent replays including from straight above showed both those called strikes missing either side of the plate by a yarn thread. Veteran hitters are known to fume, sulk, or scream over such calls.

Phillips didn’t challenge plate umpire Chris Guccione. He didn’t demand immediate accountability from the Elysian Fields archangels. He just reset in the batter’s box, refused to take his eyes off Jansen’s incoming meatball just a little in off the middle at the belt and hit a no-doubt line drive that caught Taylor—moved from left to center field in a seventh-inning double switch—a little too far back before he ran in to play the ball.

The whole thing happened so swiftly it was easy to think that Phillips’s bat flew right out of his hands after he connected, instead of him dropping the bat almost by-the-way as he started running; and, that Smith actually lost the ball when he spun for the tag try. You might clean up at the sports book in the future if you bet on people remembering it just that way.

It might make you forget Turner setting a Series record in the top of the first, when he hit one out for the second straight Series game in the same inning. It might make you forget Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager meeting Arozarena in a five-way tie for the most single-postseason bombs in the third, with a blast so high and far that Rays starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough didn’t even bother to turn and watch.

It might make you forget Seager tying Arozarena lasted exactly one full inning before Arozarena led off the fourth by hitting Dodgers starter Julio Urias’s first service over the right field fence to stand alone with nine. It might make you forget that the Rays’ oft-saluted bullpen actually had their worst struggle of the Series, after coming into Game Four with a collective ERA under two when taking over for Yarbrough’s games.

It might even make you forget what would have been the most surrealistic play of the night until Phillips hit that soft ninth-inning liner. When Muncy drove Seager home with the third Dodger run, tried advancing to second on the futile throw home, but overslid the base, popped right back up, and stumbled into Rays shortstop Willy Adames, who wrapped his arms around Muncy somehow as the pair fell back—with the ball still in Adames’s glove and Muncy’s foot off the base for the out.

This was also the night the Dodgers set a new single-postseason record by scoring their 54th run on two outs, and a night on which at least one run scored during nine consecutive half-innings, especially in the bottom of the sixth—when Brandon Lowe, whose Game Three looked as though his ferocious postseason slump returned, hit Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez for a three-run homer and the first Rays lead since winning Game Two.

Cash met the postgame press with the kind of wicked grin you expect to see from the joker who just snuck into a swanky cotillion and swiped the most choice bottle of hooch from the wet bar when everyone else was too busy preening to notice. Then a reporter asked him where in the Rays playbook was the play on which you tie and win off a double-ricochet pair of errors.

“We worked on that a lot in spring training over the last couple of years,” Cash said while rubbing the corner of his right eye. “We hadn’t put it in, but I’m glad it was able to play in our favour tonight.” Then he flashed the same hooch-swiping grin with which he started and laughed.

If Jansen, Taylor, and Smith laughed even once in Game Four’s aftermath, it was that they might not weep. For Taylor and Smith, especially, you might want to think about saving a hug for them instead of a slug. There are, after all, two more Series games to play at minimum.

Mortal men on immortal fields show their mortality only too often at the worst possible moments. We should call it being human enough. Unfortunately, in sports, the fans have their own perverse code: to err is human, to forgive is not always fan policy.

“Eventually, we’ll get some bounces”

Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier after watching Austin Barnes’s Game Three home run land on the other side of the fence Friday night.

All of a sudden, the Tampa Bay Rays look as human as an American League East champion can look. With two Los Angeles Dodgers manhandlings against them and a few too many vulnerabilities brought further into the light, they don’t even look like a World Series team going into Game Four.

Their vaunted bullpen and its deft management? Invisible in Games One and Three. Manager Kevin Cash almost inexplicably left them out of those games until it was too late to keep veteran starting pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton from being riddled.

Their penchant for hitting only when it’s timely? They’re 5-for-18 with runners in scoring position all Series long. They’re 4-9 in the two games they lost and 1-for-9 in the game they won. Figure that if you can.

The Rays better figure it and fix it fast enough, unless they’d like Game Five to be their elimination game—with Game One winner/maestro Clayton Kershaw scheduled to start—if they can’t solve Julio Urias and the Dodger pen in Game Four.

Morton admitted he was off his game starting Game Three. “I think I could have done a better job of slowing it down a little bit, especially early,” said the veteran righthander Friday night. “I just never got into a groove. I never really felt comfortable out there, which, even in playoff games, I’m able to eventually get there if I don’t have it early, and I just never did. Just combine that with who [the Dodgers] are with the bats and it made for a rough night.”

The Rays bumped, ground, nudged, bopped, and snuck their way through all three previous postseason sets, in two of which they needed to go the distance, and in an American League Championship Series they were in danger of blowing after shoving their way to a 3-0 series-opening lead.

At the end of that Game Three the Rays resembled a club of flying squirrels. At the end of this Game Three they barely resembled Bullwinkle J. Moose.

They’d previously manhandled the AL East, never mind being aided and abetted by the Boston Red Sox’s complete collapse and the Baltimore Orioles’s inability to sustain the success of a 12-8 record by 15 August. They even had a deceptive 8-2 irregular season against that beastly Empire Emeritus.

Cash planned to stack his Game Four lineup with four righthanded hitters at the top against the lefthanded Urias and seven overall. The top four would be Yandy Diaz (first baseman), Randy Arozarena (designated hitter), Mike Brosseau (third base), and Manuel Margot (left field).

Pay attention: Diaz and Margot are the most deceptively-prolific World Series hitters between both teams. Both have .400 Series batting averages and .900+ Series OPSes. They’re also carrying the emptiest .400 averages you’ll see. Diaz has a walk, no extra base hits, and no runs driven in. Margot has one extra base hit, three walks, five strikeouts, one walk, and three runs scored. More men on base ahead of them, please, Rays.

And Arozarena, whose home run hitting has been setting records and raising rackets, has one problem with his postseason power—only four of his eight home runs all postseason long either tied a game or put the Rays ahead. The deeper the postseason’s gone, the fewer fastballs the fastball-flogging Arozarena’s seen.

The only decent one he saw in Game Two took a long flight—with the Rays five runs behind and an out from the loss. The rookie’s being exploited for his inexperience at forcing pitchers to throw him something hittable or turning on any breaking ball with any considerable hang time in the zone.

Tying Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, and Barry Bonds with eight bombs in a single postseason, or passing Derek Jeter for hits by a rookie in a single postseason (23), is well and good. But Arozarena knows what means more. “What really means more is the win,” he told the Tampa Bay Times, “to hopefully get some victories for the team.”

Lefthanded swinging second baseman Brandon Lowe will bat behind Margot. Everyone who thought his two-bomb/three-steak Game Two meant his horrific preceding postseason slump was history got disabused for the time being in Game Three. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, including one in the sixth with Meadows aboard on a base hit. His lone contact out was a fly to not too deep right for the second out of the ninth.

“We seem to be a much better club when we get early leads,” said Cash after Game Three. “Whatever we can do to get some runs early.” The Series bears him out so far. They scored first in Game Two and won. The Dodgers scored first in Games One and Three and won.

“There’s nothing left,” said Morton, “but to show up [Saturday] and bounce back.”

“Guys have been hitting the ball hard lately,” the manager said. They did in Game Three—when Walker Buehler wasn’t striking them out from here to eternity. “The luck hasn’t been there, but that’s all part of it. We have to stay consistent and put our work in. Eventually we’ll get some bounces.”

Eenie-meenie, chili-beanie, the spirits are about to speak!

Eventually had better pull up to the Game Four docks for the Rays Saturday night. Otherwise, it’s going to be the sad song these Dodgers sang for seven consecutive postseasons previous: “Eventually, we’ll win a World Series.”  The roof will be open at Globe Life Field. The Rays can’t afford to let it fall in.

Yadier Molina, talking through his sombrero

Does Molina (here getting an attaboy from Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty) also think the annual Gold Glove should be a lifetime achievement award?

You thought Yadier Molina was too intelligent to play a race card? You didn’t hear him when the Gold Glove finalists were announced and the longtime St. Louis Cardinals anchor didn’t make the cut.

“Respect to all the finalists in the 2020 National League catcher!” Molina began a furious Instagram post during the week. “Now . . . I see an injustice to those who decide or not . . . I don’t know if it’s @mlb or whoever but it’s clearly that they don’t want this Boricua Jibarito to draw with the great @johnnybench_5 . . . or me at 38 years I’m still the best.. ask every catcher in the mlb and they’ll tell you!!!”

The problems with Molina’s fury only begin with his apparent forgetfulness that another Boricua Jibarito—English translation: Puerto Rican little yokel—hold the major league record for catchers with thirteen Gold Gloves. You may have seen his Hall of Fame plaque: Ivan Rodriguez.

Molina has nine Gloves. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench has a National League record ten. If there’s a move among Gold Glove voters to deny a Puerto Rican little yokel a tenth Glove, it’s not as apparent as Molina thinks.

Under normal circumstances, the Gold Gloves would be chosen by about 75 percent managers and coaches and 25 percent statistics, surface and sabermetric alike. In pandemic-pressed 2020, the Gloves candidates were chosen by statistics (surface and sabermetric alike) alone. And they say Molina at 38 years old isn’t the best behind the plate this year, and maybe anymore.

Specifically, Rawlings, who present the Gloves every year, elected to use strictly the Society for American Baseball Research’s Defensive Index. This has only been a decade or so overdue, unless you’d like to continue seeing Gold Glove winners chosen past their primes on reputation more than real results or by highlight reels over hard season-long truth by managers and coaches with familiarity bias.

The National League’s Gold Glove catching finalists are Tucker Barnhart (Cincinnati Reds), Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs), and Jacob Stallings (Pittsburgh Pirates). Molina thinks he’s still better than the rest of the National League pack when he didn’t even make the top five Glove candidates in a year the numbers alone picked the contenders.

The numbers say Molina committed five errors in 42 games, the five being his most in a season since 2017, a year in which he won the Glove. They also say three passed balls in 42 games equaled his full-season total from 2014, another year in which he won the Glove. They say Molina tied for the fifth-most wild pitches escaping him this year with fourteen and finished seventh in the league in defensive runs saved.

He may take this as adding insult to injury, but Molina was easier for baserunners to commit crime against than Austin Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) and Austin Hedges (Cleveland Indians) this year. He hasn’t been as high as second among arresting officers behind the plate since 2010, and he hasn’t been as high as the number four handcuff clapper since 2017.

What Molina seems to have wanted—especially becoming a free agent hoping for one more, maybe two-year payday—is a Lifetime Achievement Gold Glove. As if there haven’t been too many Gold Gloves awarded on just that basis when all else was said and done. At this writing he’s the number one active catcher for games caught, catching putouts, catching assists, total zone runs for catchers, and fielding percentage.

Handling pitching staffs? The pitchers who’ve thrown to Molina lifetime have a 3.68 overall ERA teaming with him. That puts him ahead of Rodriguez; the pitchers who threw to I-Rod lifetime had a 4.68 overall ERA teaming with him. It puts him behind freshly-minted Hall of Famer Ted Simmons (3.65), Bench (3.52), Berra (3.41), and Carter (3.31). Essentially, he’s handled pitching staffs the way you should expect a Hall of Fame catcher to handle them.

Unfortunately for him, the Gold Glove doesn’t reward lifetime achievement. That’s what the Hall of Fame is for. (For all we know, maybe Rawlings strikes a Palladium Glove for lifetime achievement one of these days.) And Molina knows exactly what we know, that his Hall of Fame case rests entirely on his work behind the plate. As a hitter, Pudge, Simba, the Little General, Yogi, and The Kid he ain’t and never was. (And why didn’t someone think to give Bench his own nickname and not make him share with Gene Mauch?)

If Molina wants to play another couple of years and a team thinks he can do so—most likely as a solid veteran presence and the shepherd of its next generation behind the plate—let him have that one more payday. But when he says the Gold Glove people just don’t want some Puerto Rican little yokel meeting the great Bench while some other Puerto Rican little yokel has more Gold Gloves in his trophy case than even the great Bench, Molina is talking through his sombrero.

A 2-1 Dodger advantage feels more like 3-1

At any angle, from any view, Walker Buehler overpowered the Rays Friday night.

“They’re more of a manufacturing team than a pure slugging team like Atlanta might be,” said Walker Buehler, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Game Three starting pitcher, before he actually went out and pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays. “You never know what lineup you get. We’re trying to figure out what they may do against you and work off that.”

Buehler then went out and hung a “Closed for Repairs” sign outside the manufacturers’ plant. The Rays don’t exactly have all the time in the world to put the repair crews to work.

The fixings will probably begin with otherwise stout Rays starter Charlie Morton. The same guy who flattend his old buddies from Houston to help the Rays win the pennant in the first place. The Dodgers slashed five runs on seven hits out of Morton in four and a third innings while Buehler refused to let the Rays catch hold of his full-zone fastballs or force him to work off-speed. Making it feel as though the eventual 6-2 final was a lot worse than a four-run deficit usually is.

Buehler does that when he’s on. He even takes a no-hitter into the fifth when need be. With one slightly off-the-charts outing the righthander suddenly turned the World Series from anyone’s to win to the Rays’s to lose. The Dodgers’ 2-1 Series advantage felt more like 3-1 when it finally ended.

“That might be the best I’ve ever seen his stuff,” said his catcher Austin Barnes after the game.

Buehler didn’t just expose the Rays’ continuing postseason flaw of striking out when they can’t and don’t make contact. The Rays have now done what no postseason team in history has accomplished, striking out 180 times.

They also have 113 hits, making them the only postseason team in history to hit 67 fewer times than they’ve struck out. In the middle of that, they went ten straight games—Game Four of their division series through Game Two of this World Series—with more strikeouts than hits.

Buehler’s thirteen punchouts also left the Rays striking out nine times or more in ten straight postseason games and a twelfth postseason game this time in which they struck out ten times or more. And, with thirteen hitters getting K’ed three times or more in single games.

“It’s like . . . people always say, ‘Why don’t they just hit the ball the other way when they shift?’” said Rays manager Kevin Cash Friday postgame. He laughed like Figaro, that he might not weep. “It’s hard enough just to hit the ball.” Against Buehler, whose three hits surrendered seemed like momentary lapses into generosity, it was impossible enough.

Against Morton, alas, with his fastballs not finding their intended destinations and his breaking balls left a little too readily over the plate, for a change, he might have been fortunate that seven hits were all the Dodgers could get. Begging the question as to why Cash, who normally thinks nothing of such moves when he smells trouble, left him in as long as he did this time around.

Sure Cash thought nothing of hooking Morton in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series at the first sign of trouble in the top of the sixth. And the world went bonkers over that. Since when does a manager that fearless not get his bullpen working and his man the hell out of there when he’s in the hole 3-0 with two out but two on in the third—the first of whom got there as a hit batsman off the foot?

All three of the Dodgers’ hits have come with two strikes,” tweeted ESPN’s Jeff Passan after the third. “And all three have been on pitches Charlie Morton left over the plate. Dodgers lead, 3-0, and they’re doing it against a pitcher whose opponents hit .170/.207/.284 vs. him with two strikes this year.

The Dodgers now have 87 runs this postseason. Fifty of them have come with two outs. “There’s two outs, but you can still build an inning, not giving away at-bats,” says the Mookie Monster, one of four Dodgers to knock in at least a run with two outs Friday night. “That’s the recipe. That’s how you win a World Series.”

I’m always fascinated by Kevin Cash’s pitching decisions,” tweeted The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark after the fourth inning. “Last Saturday, Charlie Morton had 66 pitches and a 2-hit shutout in the 6th – and Cash took him out. Tonight, he was down 5-0 with 78 pitches through the 4th – and got left in. Much quicker hook when Cash has a lead.”

Much harder for Cash to get away with bass-ackwards thinking, too. Not a single Rays bull poked his nose out of his stall before and after Max Muncy lined a two-run single to center. It took until the fifth—after Dodger catcher Austin Barnes dropped his safety-squeeze RBI bunt and Mookie Betts’s full-count, followup RBI single made it 5-0 in the fourth—before the Rays bullpen gate finally swung open.

Did you guess what happened from there right? If not, here it is: Four Rays relievers kept the Dodgers to a single run and three hits in their four and two-thirds innings work. They walked only two and struck out four. In other words, the Rays’ bullpen did what the Rays’ bullpen normally does. They just started four and a third innings too late Friday night.

It doesn’t discredit the Dodgers’ hitters to suggest Cash might have let them break into the house—only beginning with Justin Turner’s one-out, high line home run in the top of the first—and steal all the jewels and cash they could carry. The only thing the Dodgers swiped once Cash finally reached for the armed guards was Barnes catching hold of a John Curtiss slider that didn’t slide as far under the middle as it was supposed to slide and sending it over the center field fence in the top of the sixth.

Get the feeling the Dodgers are turning brand-new Globe Life Field into Dodger Stadium II? They’re not just pitching as though it’s their own vacation home, but they’ve hit one more home run in sixteen postseason games there than the Texas Rangers hit in thirty irregular season games in their brand new house.

Delayed security is not the best idea when you’re up against a Buehler who’s hell bent on making sure nobody got into the Dodgers’ house except Manuel Margot with a one-out double and Willy Adames with a two-out RBI double in the bottom of the fifth.

“Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage, there’s only a few guys currently and throughout history,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts postgame. “He’s in some really elite company, and I’m just happy he’s wearing a Dodger uniform.”

With Friday night’s flush and the prospect of facing Buehler in Game Seven if the Series goes that far, the Rays would prefer he wear a police, fire, or military uniform right now. Those they can handle. Buehler they couldn’t. When he finished the fifth his lifetime postseason ERA stood at 2.34 and his 2020 postseason ERA alone stood at 1.88. And his streak of nine straight postseason gigs with a minimum six strikeouts and two runs allowed or less became the longest in Show history while he was at it.

“I think the more you do these things the calmer you get,” said Buehler postgame. Not about any records but just about pitching up when you’re striking for the Promised Land. “I don’t want to keep harping on it, but I enjoy doing this. And I feel good in these spots.”

As for World Series games pitched with ten or more punchouts, no walks, and no bombs surrendered, Buehler became only the eighth pitcher to have one. The previous Magnificent Seven: Sandy Koufax (1965), Bob Gibson (1968), Tom Seaver (1973), Randy Johnson (2001), Roger Clemens (2001), Cliff Lee (2009), and Adam Wainwright (2013).

Tampa Bay left fielder Randy Arozarena hit an excuse-us solo homer off Dodger closer Kenley Jansen with two out in the ninth. He’s now hit as many home runs in this postseason (eight) as he did when he was finally past his COVID-19 bout and saddled up for what was left of the irregular season. He also set postseason records with what’s now 52 total bases and 23 postseason hits as a rookie.

Turner had to settle merely for his first postseason bomb since 2017 and for tying Hall of Famer Duke Snider on the Dodgers’ postseason homer list with his eleventh. Barnes also slipped into the record books. Only one man previously had ever homered and squeezed a run home in the same Series game, and that was more than half a century ago.

We take you back to Hector (What a Pair of Hands) Lopez, New York Yankees outfielder, off Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bob Purkey in the deciding 1961 Series Game Five. Barnes is thus the only catcher ever to turn the single Series game bomb-squeeze trick. Roll over Bill Dickey, and tell Yogi Berra the news.

If only Arozarena’s bombings had better timers. Only four of his eight postseason bombs so far have either tied a game or given the Rays a lead. The rook whose 1.340 OPS in the first three rounds widened as many eyes as his home runs has a mere .885 OPS in the Series thus far.

The Rays overall are only hitting a .206/.250/.381 Series slash. They’ve actually struck out at the plate six fewer times than the Dodgers, but they’ve been out-hit by five, out-homered by three, and out-scored by seven. With Morton’s ghastly 10.38 Game Three ERA and Game One starter Tyler Glasnow’s grotesque 12.46, you have to remove them to find the Rays otherwise with a 2.10 Series ERA. Remove Dylan Floro and Dustin May from the Game Two equation, and the Dodgers otherwise have a 2.20 Series ERA thus far.

Timing is everything in this Series. The Rays’ inability to find theirs at the plate against Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ finding and finer tuning theirs against Morton and Glasnow, and Cash’s timing off twice on charging his bulls, are three major reasons why the Dodgers holding a 2-1 Series lead feels more like a 3-1 lead going into Saturday night.

This is what the Dodgers saved Julio Urias for. You may have heard a little chirping after he didn’t appear even in a bullpen stir during Game Two, when the Dodgers couldn’t beat the Rays at their own bullpen game. They’d better hope he isn’t too well rested; he hasn’t pitched since he closed out NLCS Game Seven with three shutdown innings last Saturday. And he’s going up against a by-necessity Rays bullpen game with Ryan Yarbrough possibly opening and possibly going three.

That’s the game the Rays usually master. Now it’s the mastery they need desperately enough.