ARLINGTON, Texas — Since Orel Hershiser struck out Oakland's Tony Phillips for the final out of the 1988 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers have played 5,014 regular-season games and 113 more in the postseason in pursuit of their next title. They have spent $3.69 billion in player payroll over 32 seasons.
One more win and that elusive seventh championship will be theirs.
"I think it's going to be really welcoming to the players, this generation," Hershiser said Monday, a day before the Dodgers take a 3-2 World Series lead into Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Rays. "It's definitely a generational win for this group of guys and I'm thinking of the Kenley Jansens, the Clayton Kershaws, the Justin Turners, the guys that have been here through all the division titles."
Kershaw got his second win of the Series on Sunday, and Tony Gonsolin starts Tuesday against the Rays' Blake Snell. The rookie right-hander hopes to keep the World Series from reaching a Game 7 for the fourth time in five years.
If Tampa Bay manages to win, Walker Buehler would start Game 7 for the Dodgers on Wednesday and Charlie Morton for the Rays in the finale of the first neutral-site Series.
Gonsolin was used as an opener in Game 2, allowing Brandon Lowe's first-inning homer, lasting just four outs and taking the loss as the Rays won 6-4. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he views the 25-year-old right-hander as a traditional starter this time through and hopes for five or six innings from him.
"It's mostly an eye test because he's shown that when he's rolling, he gets lefties, righties out. When he's not, you can see that he's not on point," Roberts said. "I think for me, it's just let Tony go until he's not being as effective as we feel he should be."
Los Angeles, with a big league-leading payroll of $95.6 million in the pandemic-shortened season, has outplayed the low-budget Rays, 28th among the 30 teams at $29.3 million. The Dodgers have outscored the Rays 29-21, outhit them .264 to .228 and outhomered them 11-8 with an offense led by Corey Seager (.471, two homers, four RBIs), Max Muncy (.389, six RBIs) and Justin Turner (.364).
While Manuel Margot (.400), Kevin Kiermaier (.375, two homers, three RBIs) and Randy Arozarena (.333, two homers, three RBIs) have produced, Austin Meadows (.154), Joey Wendle (.133) and Mike Zunino (0 for 13) have struggled. Lowe (3 for 21, three homers, six RBIs) has been hit and miss.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said he plans on formulating his lineup to guard against a short outing by Gonsolin followed by righty-lefty switches. He hopes Snell pitches aggressively.
"We just haven't done a good enough job of establishing that we're going to get outs within the zone early in the count," he said. "But the Dodgers do a tremendous job of seeing pitches, getting deep in the count, pretty fearless with hitting with two strikes."
Mookie Betts is 5 for 22 (.227) but has sparked the Dodgers with superior defense and four stolen bases — three shy of Lou Brock's Series record After beating the Dodgers with Boston in the 2018 Series, Betts was acquired by Los Angeles in a trade last February and signed a $365 million contract through 2032.
"We got a steal," Roberts said. "And I'm just so grateful that the deal was done because it's not only helping us this year, it's going to help us for the next wave of young players and really enhance what we have as a culture going forward. And it's going to affect players that haven't been drafted by the Dodgers yet."
Tampa Bay won its first division title since 2010 and is in the Series for the second time, following a five-game loss to Philadelphia in 2008. The Rays and Cash have impressed Roberts with their relentlessness, evidenced by their ninth-inning rally to win Game 4.
"They play the game the right way. They're grinders," Roberts said. "He balances analytics with just watching his players. He trust his players. His players are kind of very unselfish."
The Dodgers have won a record 24 NL pennants, half since leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season, but are sixth in World Series titles behind the New York Yankees (27), St. Louis Cardinals (11), Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia/Oakland Athletics (nine apiece) and New York/San Francisco Giants (eight).
Kershaw made his Dodgers debut in 2008 and has helped them win eight straight NL West titles and NL pennants in 2017, '18 and this year. Jansen has been with Los Angeles since 2010, Turner, Joc Pederson and Pedro Baez since 2014, Corey Seager, and Kiké Hernández and Alex Wood since 2015.
A model of stability under the O'Malley family for nearly a half century starting in 1950, the Dodgers were sold to the Fox division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. in 1998, then to Frank McCourt in 2004 and to Guggenheim Baseball Management in 2012. An ownership group led by Mark Walter includes former Lakers star Magic Johnson, women's tennis champion Billie Jean King and entertainment executive Peter Guber.
Los Angeles lost to Houston in a seven-game Series in 2017, and then was eliminated by Boston in five games the following year.
Hershiser, the 1988 World Series MVP, says each time the postseason is lengthened it adds another level of uncertainty to the competition.
"It's going to be a culmination of a lot of things because there's so much buildup with the fan base and with the organization and with the players," said Hershiser, now a broadcaster for the Dodgers' Spectrum SportsNet LA network. "Even if it was won in '17, it would've been a long time. I think it's very hard as far as the playoffs are concerned. In no way was the '88 Dodger team supposed to win against the mighty Mets and against the Bash Brother Oakland A's. So sometimes maybe the best team on paper and talent on the field doesn't always win."