Professional baseball players, managers, and coaches love to use the word “surreal.” In the understatement of the century, after the final game of the World Series the Dodger manager Dave Roberts said, “I think the word ‘surreal’ is used all the time.” Because of its unusual conditions and circumstances this season has been regularly described using the term. It’s been widely suggested that the season is so unusual that the championship should carry an asterisk. The series played out relatively normally, with the far better Dodgers beating the very good Tampa Bay Rays in six games. But there were a few moments during the series that clearly resonated with classically Surrealist themes.
While watching the final play of Game 4, Youtube baseball commentator Jomboy stated that “Runners in motion introduce chaos.” This defensive fiasco was a case study in this newly-formulated precept from baseball’s old school, pre-analytics era. The play was reminiscent of Enos Slaughter’s “Mad Dash” to score the decisive run in the 1946 World Series. Like Slaughter, with two outs and running on the pitch, the Rays’ Randy Arozarena tried to score from first base on a single hit to the shallow outfield. But there the similarities end. Over the span of about eleven seconds, order took a holiday and defensive chaos reigned. Two errors were made on the play, every Dodger who touched the ball screwed it up, and Arozarena tripped and fell running down the third base line before scoring the winning run of the game.
During the sixth inning of the decisive Game Six, manager Kevin Cash’s decision to change pitchers looked robotic. His pitcher, Blake Snell, had travelled back in time to two years ago and was pitching a masterpiece shutout worthy of the Cy Young Award winner he was in 2018. Cash was clueless to what was, maybe not entirely rationally, obvious to any baseball purist watching; the Dodgers would hit the next pitcher no matter who he was. That was exactly what happened. The Dodgers, visibly elated and relieved when they saw Snell depart, quickly took the lead. Cash seemed to have no idea that the pitcher he was pulling was more than the sum of his numbers this year. At the moment he replaced Snell, Kevin Cash had no way of knowing he had reached the limits of reason.
This year’s World Series was an emotionally mixed bag. The shortened season and expanded playoffs lent the season an air of artificiality, and the computer generated images of fake spectators and piped-in crowd noise made live baseball on television feel like a video game. Justin Turner’s ill-advised decision to join his teammates on the field for the postgame celebration after testing positive for coronavirus was, in some ways, the icing on the cake. But future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw kept his postseason demons at bay and attained some redemption. Roberts’ surgically precise management of the Dodger bullpen in Game Six will gain him some vindication. This may have been a surreal season that will always carry an asterisk in the minds of baseball observers. But for the Dodgers and their long-suffering fans, the World Series trophy is the reality they’ve been waiting for.
Jerry Howard’s “Baseball Notes” appears on Fridays during baseball season. Which is probably over.