The Los Angeles Dodgers won their first championship since 1988 on Tuesday night, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win in six games.
“This is our year!” manager Dave Roberts shouted, drawing huge cheers from about 11,000 fans in Texas.
Roberts did what his seven predecessors — including Joe Torre and Don Mattingly — failed to do, bring a championship to long-starved Dodgers fans. He joins Hall of Famers Walter Alston and Tom Lasorda as the only managers to do so.
“I had a crazy feeling that came to fruition,” he said.
An emotional Roberts shared hugs with his players after the final out.
“It’s sinking in pretty quickly,” he said. “Obviously, I’m over the moon.”
Roberts has taken the Dodgers to the playoffs in each of his five seasons, helping extend their streak of eight consecutive NL West titles. But until Tuesday they had never reached their ultimate goal and Roberts endured his share of criticism along the way.
Roberts got booed in Game 5 by the few fans allowed at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
The mostly pro-LA crowd didn’t want Clayton Kershaw to leave so soon, but Roberts stuck to his pregame plan. He wanted his veteran ace to face 20 or so batters (he faced 21) and turn it over to the bullpen. Kershaw left after getting the first two outs of the sixth. The Dodgers went on to win 4-2.
The fans’ reaction was ironic. In previous years, they had excoriated Roberts for leaving Kershaw in too long only to watch disaster strike. They would rip the 48-year-old manager for his use of the bullpen, using only one reliever or too many. Roberts routinely got tagged with the blame when failure occurred.
But he rarely changed his disposition. Roberts is known for being a players’ manager, full of trust in his roster. He’s friendly and positive with everyone. Nowhere close to being the yeller that Lasorda was.
“I try to not make things personal about me,” he said. “There’s always going to be skeptics, but this is something no one can take away from us.”
Roberts was busy managing the game when he got hit with a shocker: third baseman Justin Turner had to come out because of a positive COVID-19 test.
“That hurts,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to see Justin yet. I just knew I had to get him out of the game after the seventh inning.”
After closing out the Rays, Roberts thanked two people who weren’t in Texas: former pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and pitcher Ross Stripling, who was traded to Toronto in late August.
Roberts also singled out veteran ace Clayton Kershaw and closer Kenley Jansen, who struggled this season.
“For guys like Clayton, I couldn’t be happier for you, Kersh. Couldn’t be happier,” Roberts said. “You want to talk about a narrative? How about being a champion? He’s a champion forever.”
Kershaw was equally happy for Roberts.
“It’s not easy to be manager,” the pitcher said. “There are so many behind the scenes people who put us in position to succeed and he’s at the top of that food chain.”
Roberts was at the helm for World Series defeats to Houston in 2017 and Boston in 2018; both times the opposition celebrated on the Dodgers’ home field.
Roberts had overcome the odds before. He survived a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 10 years ago. He battled his way up the depth chart to become the starting center fielder for the Dodgers in the early 2000s after spending most of the previous eight years in the minors. He wasn’t the first choice to manage the team, either.
Roberts became the franchise’s first minority manager in 2015. His late father was Black and his mother is Japanese. He was born in Okinawa, Japan, where his father was stationed with the Marines. Waymon Roberts died at age 68 in 2017.
Roberts had never managed anywhere before taking over one of baseball’s most storied franchises. He was previously bench coach with the San Diego Padres.
As a player, Roberts was best known for The Steal in 2004. In Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, the Red Sox were facing elimination when he entered as a pinch-runner. Roberts stole second against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and scored the tying run on a single. Boston won in 12 innings, overcame the Yankees and went on to win its first World Series since 1918, although Roberts didn’t play in the Series.
The Dodgers were baseball’s best team throughout the abbreviated 60-game season. Now, under Roberts, they’re world champions.