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Dodgers and Rays saving baseball from itself with true Fall Classic

It’s remarkable, really, how often baseball’s rather lofty label for its World Series lives up to the catchy tag.

More often than not, the Fall Classic is indeed that, allowing October baseball to deliver a timely and compelling endorsement for a sport that has more than its share of challenges.

Through five games the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays have put on a show, a championship round that arguably has been the most entertaining of the big three professional sports this season.

And given how and where they began, that in itself is a stunner.

It was baseball, after all, that alienated almost everyone who cared about the game with a protracted labour shutdown that eliminated the possibility of a more credible 100-game season and reduced the 2020 schedule to a 60-game affair.

Then it was almost over before it started with COVID-19 shutdowns around the league threatening to make MLB an even bigger joke for failing to get its act together, while the NHL and NBA were set to succeed.

Eventually business settled down, though, with an expanded playoff format and a best-of-three first round that threatened to reduced the post-season to roulette wheel randomness.

Out of it all, incredibly, a terrific run of playoff drama and entertainment allowed baseball to rise above it all with classic seven-game series in both the American and National League championship rounds and a World Series that has given so much through the first five.

So feel free to remove the asterisks after getting to this point, with the Dodgers and their MLB-high payroll having a 3-2 series lead and the upper hand in claiming their first title since 1988 heading into Tuesday’s potential deciding Game 6.

The World Series has delivered and, unique among the other sports, is doing so at a time of year we’re accustomed to seeing it go down.

In no particular order, here’s a wide-lens highlight reel of what has gone down prior to arriving at the final offday of 2020.

THE MOOKIE SHOW

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts nailed it succinctly on a Zoom call on Monday when he labelled the February deal with the Red Sox to bring Mookie Betts to Hollywood as “a steal.”

And what a heist it was. At times these playoffs, the outrageously talented outfielder has threatened to steal the show, in fact both on offence and defence. Though it certainly can be argued that it’s a varied team effort that has the Dodgers on the brink of victory, in many ways, Betts’ performance in Game 1 set the tone.

And if the Dodgers win it in six, say, Kershaw has to be considered alongside teammates Corey Seager and Justin Turner for World Series MVP honours.

GAME FOUR THE AGES

In the glee of the moment, there is a tendency to let recency bias rule the emotions and declare what just happened an instant classic.

Hackneyed as that label can be, it was bang on for the calamitous conclusion to Game 4, the dramatic 8-7 Rays comeback in the ninth to walk it off.

A guy who hadn’t had an at-bat in a month — the Rays Brett Phillips — singled to drive in the tying run before Arozarena was able to score the winner on an error and after tripping over his own feet.

It was just the third time in World Series history that a game ended with two outs in the ninth inning and the trailing team somehow finding a way to win.

If the Dodgers go on to lose the next two, the play will become an even more dubious part of World Series history as just the fourth to end in a walk-off with an error being part of the equation.

A home run, a pair of stolen bases and two runs scored certainly got the series started in style for the Dodgers, who cruised to an 8-3 victory. A member of the 2018 World Series winning Red Sox, Betts has been stellar in the outfield as well.

LET’S GET RANDY

Given away to the Rays for next to nothing by the St. Louis Cardinals, Randy Arozarena not only has threatened to steal the show in this post season, he embodies so much of baseball in 2020.

He didn’t play his first game until August 30, a delayed debut because he was sidelined with the COVID-19 virus. How fitting is that?

Though the 25-year-old Cuban has cooled off somewhat in the World Series, without his MVP effort in the ALCS, the Rays likely wouldn’t even be here.

No one in the grand history of the sport has hit more home runs in the post season than the nine Arozarena has belted out and he’s a threat every time he comes to the plate.

KERSHAW REDEMPTION

The narrative surrounding Kershaw’s high-profile post-season failings of the past have been skewed to the tedious this October so, if nothing else, his two credited wins thus far in the World Series puts that tired story line to rest.

A decorated career that has included multiple Cy Young Awards and will send him to the Hall of Fame when he’s done playing now has the irrefutable post-season cred to go with.

Wins in Games 1 and 5 of the Series have set the stage for the Dodgers to bring that elusive title to their ace, who has lived up to that handle this post-season.

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