As Game 1 of the World Series moved into the bottom of the fifth, the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead. Their advantage had been cut in half in the top of the inning, when Clayton Kershaw gave up a worrying home run. With the ghost of Playoff Kershaw just barely starting to make itself visible, the Dodgers were in need of a big inning. Mookie Betts made sure they got one.
Baseball loves to reward sexy at-bats: announcers breathlessly applaud homers, and even big whiffs that could have been homers if the batter had not “just missed that one.” Betts can deliver plenty of swings like that, but what makes him a great baseball player is that is that he doesn’t even need to put the bat on the ball to will himself around the bases. The bottom of the fifth started with Betts looking at one strike and then four consecutive balls, and the Rays were in trouble as soon as he reached first base.
Betts, being one of the few players left in baseball who aggressively takes extra bases, stole second immediately. Corey Seager followed up with a walk, and as Justin Turner struck out in the following at-bat, Betts and Seager executed a perfect double steal. The Dodgers’ aggressiveness paid off immediately, when Max Muncy hit a dinky ball to first, giving Betts just enough time to make a dash for home.
That’s not an easy run that Betts scored. Remember when Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson got himself caught in a silly rundown trying to make a similar play in Game 7 of the NLCS? If Betts had forgotten to take his secondary lead as the pitch was thrown, or if he had hesitated for a split second when the ball was hit, or if he had not angled his slide just right, he could have ended up make the same momentum-swinging blunder that Dansby made. Betts didn’t do any of those things, though, because he’s Mookie Betts.
The fifth inning snowballed. The Rays pulled starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow, and the Dodgers finished the inning with 6-1 lead. There in bottom of the sixth inning, was Betts to lead off again. He saw one pitch and smashed it over the right-field fence.
That put the game out of reach for good, and once again demonstrated what a supremely talented player Betts is. There are a handful of guys who can whack an opposite-field dinger with such ease; there is maybe one other guy in the league who can draw a walk and then end up at home plate three at-bats later after a single ball has been put into play. Betts did both of those things in consecutive innings, and the Dodgers, of course, won.