What else is there to say about this guy? Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ breakout slugger, added to his major league record for most home runs in a single postseason, hitting his 10th in the first inning of Game 6 to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
He smashed an 89-mile-per-hour slider from Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin. It wasn’t a bad pitch — it was just outside the strike zone — but Arozarena is so locked in and so strong that he flicked his bat and sent the ball over the right field fence.
Gonsolin wasn’t sharp the rest of the inning. Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts had left-hander Alex Wood warming in the bullpen after Gonsolin allowed two men on with only one out. Roberts stuck with Gonsolin, who escaped with no further damage but needed 25 pitches in all.
In the bottom of the frame, Rays starter Blake Snell looked much stronger, striking out the side on 12 pitches, including a 97 m.p.h. fastball to fan Justin Turner.
Enrique Hernandez, a Dodgers utility player since 2015, said this when asked what the talk around the team was entering Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday: “That we hope the roof is closed because it’s freezing.”
It was expected to be around 40 degrees and foggy in Arlington, Texas, by first pitch. Hernandez and the Dodgers got their wish: The roof at Globe Life Field has been closed.
Hernandez said this year’s Dodgers were actually better than the ones that also reached the World Series in 2017 and 2018. The biggest difference: star outfielder Mookie Betts, who was acquired in a trade with the Boston Red Sox over the winter.
“I feel like there’s been a lot of times where we’ve sat as a group or we’ve sat in front of you guys and talked internally and to you guys about how this is the best team we’ve ever played on,” Hernandez told reporters before Tuesday’s game. “This season, I think we can all agree that this is the best team we’ve seen since we’ve been here.”
During their day off on Monday, with a potential elimination game looming, the Rays did their best to distract themselves from their World Series deficit. They gathered in an area of their quarantine hotel near Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, for a catered meal of local food. “I liked the barbecue a lot,” said Rays Manager Kevin Cash, who had grown tired of the room service food from the hotel.
Most of the team sat around, ate and talked, which was a good opportunity to relax and get their minds off baseball, said shortstop Willy Adames. Some players have said throughout this unusual season that it has been harder to get their minds off work, particularly when they’re struggling, because of the health and safety restrictions that have confined them to their hotels or stadiums on the road. They can’t go on walks, meet up with friends or family or go to a restaurant as they used to.
“We didn’t really talk about baseball,” Adames said. “We were just talking about life and a lot of stuff. It’s always good to learn from the old guys.”
Asked who those old guys were, Adames, 25, listed pitcher Charlie Morton, 36, who is slated to start a potential Game 7, and then said that almost everyone on the team is older than he is.
Among those players is first baseman Ji-Man Choi, 29, a left-handed hitter who is in the leadoff spot for the Rays on Tuesday night against the Dodgers’ right-handed starter, Tony Gonsolin. “We’re just looking for a spark,” Cash said.
Choi, who had mostly been in the cleanup spot this month, is hitting .263 with two home runs and nine walks this postseason.
As far as the team’s mood facing elimination, the Rays insisted they felt as relaxed as usual. “It’s pretty cool to see a team not waver too much,” said Rays catcher Mike Zunino.
The Dodgers’ last title was in 1988 — when Tommy Lasorda was their manager and pitcher Orel Hershiser their star — but they have come close a few times since.
In the 2018 World Series, they were dispatched in five games by the Boston Red Sox, who had one of the best seasons in baseball history. In the 2017 World Series, the Dodgers came even closer to snapping their title drought by forcing a Game 7 against the Houston Astros, but then they lost that final contest, 5-1.
But both of those Series opponents, the Astros in particular, now have clouds hanging over them. They have been penalized by Major League Baseball for sign-stealing schemes that broke the rules in each of those seasons. (M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in his report on the Astros that their rule-breaking continued during the 2017 postseason, but concluded in a later report that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the Red Sox had used in-game video to decode signs during the 2018 postseason.)
Regardless, the Dodgers — one of M.L.B.’s marquee franchises and one of its top spenders year in and year out — are one win from winning a title they have so desperately sought and have been frustrated they couldn’t claim before.