ARLINGTON, Texas — The Rays are going to play the Dodgers in the World Series.
Of course they are.
The teams finished with the best records in their leagues and share a bond in personnel and philosophy, as Andrew Friedman helped build the Rays organization into a winner and then left after the 2014 season to take over the Dodgers.
The Dodgers made the match happen with a 4-3 win over the Braves on Sunday night in another tense Game 7, Cody Bellinger’s seventh-inning homer putting them ahead to stay. They came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win three straight games and secure their third NL pennant in four years.
“The job is not done,” said Dodgers infielder Kike Hernandez, who hit a game-tying homer in the sixth. “Now we can shift our focus to the Tampa Bay Rays. They have a really good team, and they’re playing really good baseball.”
The Rays did their part on Saturday, earning their first trip to the Series since 2008, and second in franchise history, with a 4-2 win over the Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS. In doing so, they avoided becoming the second team to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. That, after a 40-20 regular season and playoff wins over the Blue Jays and Yankees.
The Dodgers, who went 43-17 during the season and eliminated the Brewers and Padres, will be a tough matchup.
“You’re talking about the team that won the most games in the American League going against the team that won the most games in the National League,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said Sunday night. “Just an incredibly deep and talented roster that we haven’t gone up against this year.”
The Dodgers present problems with both top-shelf talent, such as former Red Sox star Mookie Betts, NLCS MVP Corey Seager (who had five homers), Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw, but also tremendous depth. And, like the Rays, they utilize positional versatility and match-up strategy to maximize production.
What do they do best?
“Everything,” Neander said. “You don’t win as many games as they have without having an exceptional amount of top-end talent as well as an exceptional amount of depth. Their record to this point and them getting to this stage speaks to just how good they are across the board.”
Also, the Dodgers, by having the better regular-season record, will be the home team, meaning they get to bat last in Games 1, 2, 6 and 7, and have use of the larger clubhouse at Globe Life Field, the new retractable roof stadium where they played played 10 games over their last two series.
And, with Major League Baseball allowing about 10,500 fans per game in socially distanced seating, they are likely to have a significant advantage there, too, based on the loud crowd cheering them on Sunday night.
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The Rays and Dodgers didn’t play this season, though they played two two-game series in 2019. The Rays' lack of familiarity with the Astros pitchers was a definite factor in the ALCS.
The Rays should have their top starting pitchers rested and lined up well, with the potential to start Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton in the first three games against the veteran and patient Dodgers lineup.
There are several former Rays among the Dodgers, including relievers Jake McGee, Adam Kolarek and Dylan Floro; first-base coach George Lombard, and director of player health Ron Porterfield.
But the strongest bond is with Friedman, who came in when Stuart Sternberg bought the team and took over operations after the 2005 season, and, with no experience, built them into a winner. Neander was hired in 2007 as an intern and worked his way up, taking over the top job in November 2016.
“Andrew has meant and continues to mean a lot to me, personally,” Neander said. “I’m really happy for the success that he’s had and certainly the opportunity to go against him on this stage.”
Friedman said after receiving the NL trophy that some of his closest friends are with the Rays, but his sole focus is on getting the Dodgers their first World Series championship since 1988.
The Dodgers went ahead to stay in the back-and-forth Game 7 with a seventh-inning homer by Bellinger off reliever Chris Martin. That was the Dodgers' 16th homer of the series, tying the record for LCS play set in 2008 by the Rays against the Red Sox.
The Braves and Dodgers were tied 3-3 in the seventh.
The Braves took the lead from the start, as Ronald Acuna drew a four-pitch leadoff walk from Dustin May, stole second and, after Freddie Freeman also walked on four pitches, scored on Marcell Ozuna’s single.
The Braves made it 2-0 in the second when Dansby Swanson knocked the third pitch from Tony Gonsolin, the second of five Dodgers pitchers, over the left-centerfield wall.
The Dodgers tied it with a two-out rally in the third. Justin Turner walked, Max Muncy doubled and Will Smith brought them both home with a single to center.
The Braves went back ahead in the fourth. Ozzie Albies walked, stole second and, after Swanson walked, scored on Austin Riley’s single. The Braves had a chance for more but ran into outs at home and third on Nick Markakis' grounder to third.
The Dodgers pulled even again in the sixth when Hernandez, pinch-hitting, capped an eight-pitch at-bat against new Braves reliever A.J. Minter with a homer to left-center.