Champs in their own right: 'Relief' for LA vets

Roberts, Kershaw, Jansen, Turner savor elusive signature moment

October 28th, 2020

, and , franchise fixtures haunted by past October failures, got shoutouts from manager Dave Roberts on the podium as the World Series trophy was presented to the Dodgers. With a 3-1 clinching win over Tampa Bay in Game 6 on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field, vindication was theirs.

“For guys like Clayton, I couldn’t be happier for you, couldn’t be happier,” said Roberts. “You want to talk about a narrative? How about being a champion? He’s a champion forever. Kenley Jansen, what you’ve done, thank you. Justin Turner, thank you.”

Why those three? Nobody had played in more postseason rounds before winning the World Series than Kershaw at 19. Jansen was second with 16 rounds, and Turner tied for third at 14.

There’s always euphoria when you get the ring, but this one also brings huge relief. Not only personally, but as a group these Dodgers no longer must watch reruns on the Dodger Stadium big screen of Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser as a reminder of what they haven’t done. Yes, 1988 fatigue is real, but now they’ve got a championship highlight loop of their own.

It took eight tries -- the seven previous division titles ending in October disappointment, including World Series losses to Houston in 2017 and Boston in '18. Even Roberts used the word “burden” to describe the missed opportunities, replaced by satisfaction that the 2020 club has “our own moment.”

Kershaw has waited for this moment the longest, a rookie back in 2008. Burdened with comparisons to Sandy Koufax before ever pitching in a game, he now possesses the last elusive achievement on a Hall of Fame résumé. Until this, he was haunted by the narrative that he couldn’t win in October, exorcising those demons with two wins in this World Series.

Admittedly ecstatic, Kershaw dismissed a postgame question about his legacy.

“We won the World Series. I don’t care about legacy, I don’t care about what happened last year,” he said. “I don’t care at all. We won the World Series. The 2020 Dodgers won the World Series. Who cares about all that other stuff? It’s just pointless, doesn’t matter. We won, It’s great.”

Ending the 32-year franchise drought was great, too.

“There’s definitely a sense of relief that we did it,” Kershaw said. “We’ve been the best team the whole year. We’ve been the best team before and haven’t won. To get to be the best team, make it through this crazy playoff run and to be able to win the World Series is a pretty special accomplishment, and I’m not going to take it for granted, for sure.”

Jansen, a rookie in 2011, is the greatest closer in franchise history, but after an inconsistent postseason he was a spectator to ’ save. He didn’t seem to mind, considering the outcome.

"A sigh of relief, you know?” said Jansen. “We finally made it. We're champs. We're world champs. Nobody can take this away from us. Julio was throwing the ball pretty well. I'm ready any time the phone rings. Yes, we all want that moment. I feel like I'm a true Dodger now. After 32 years, the trophy's going back to L.A. I will cherish and remember this moment my whole life. My kids were here with me. When they get older, I can remind them of this moment, that we are world champs.”

Turner, who joined the club seven years ago as a non-roster Spring Training invite, wasn’t around at the finish. He was removed before the eighth inning when word came that he had tested positive for COVID-19. In a year when nothing was normal, not having the club’s postseason anchor and clubhouse leader on the field for the last out left his teammates with a bitter taste.

Turner is about to enter free agency so, conceivably, this could have been his final game as a Dodger.

"I’m sure it’s really hard tonight, and we all feel for him," Kershaw said. "I hope he takes solace in the fact we’re not here without him. He’s been our guy for a long time, he’s done so many incredible things for this organization. He’s been the rock in the postseason for us every single year."

Perhaps nobody was more deserving of the triumph than Roberts, the former Dodgers center fielder, cancer survivor, designated target for blame and now the first manager of Asian descent and second African-American after Cito Gaston to win a World Series.

But Roberts, who succeeded Don Mattingly as manager in 2016, pushed all the right buttons the last two games, including parading six relievers after a short start by rookie . When you are singled out by a future Hall of Famer, that’s vindication.

“We’re happy for Doc,” said Kershaw. “It’s not easy to be a manager, it’s not easy to be a manager in the postseason. To get through this game the way he did, to manage the bullpen the way he did and navigate through. We gave up one home run in the first inning, and to match up the way he expected it to go -- we won the game. Tip your cap to him, the coaching staff, the front office.

"It’s not just a player game. So many people put us in position, and he’s at the top of food chain.”