ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays is a rare meeting of baseball’s best for the title, and a matchup of organizations with Andrew Friedman’s imprint.
Friedman was the Rays’ director of baseball operations from 2004-05 and then general manager from until he left in October 2014 to become the Dodgers president of baseball operations.
Game 1 is Tuesday night.
Retired first baseman James Loney, a veteran of both organizations, describes the Rays as “feisty.”
“We were always fighting. But we always did feel like we were the better team,” he said Sunday. “I don’t ever feel like we went out there overmatched. We didn’t care who was pitching. We didn’t care what kind of lineup they had. We were bringing that mentality and I think the Rays team this year has that.”
“Both teams are really committed to winning and trying to find any kind of edge they could,” added Loney, who played for the Dodgers from 2006-11 and the Rays from 2013-15. “The Rays are really known for their analytics and getting in there, trying to find different ways to beat hard teams: Is it a bullpen guy that we need to use in maybe an unorthodox situation? And the Dodgers, I felt we kind of started doing that towards the end of my career.”
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Despite the shortened schedule and expanded playoffs, the teams with the best record in each league meet in the World Series for just the fourth time since Major League Baseball realigned each league into three divisions in 1995 and .
Reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, newcomer Mookie Betts and manager Dave Roberts’ Dodgers went 43-17, the best record in the majors by eight wins. They overcame a 3-1 deficit in the NL Championship Series, beat Atlanta 4-3 on Bellinger’s late home run in Game 7 Sunday night and reached the World Series for the third time in four years.
Rookie sensation Randy Arozarena and skipper Kevin Cash’s bullpen-rich Rays were 40-20 and topped the American League by four victories. They also won a Game 7, topping Houston 4-2 in the ALCS and earn the second World Series trip in franchise history.
“Going to be a fun Series,” Bellinger said.
Because of its superior record, Los Angeles has “home field advantage” when the neutral site Series starts in Arlington, Texas, and will bat last in Games 1 and 2, and then in 6 and 7, if necessary.
“From the moment we that we were able to put a season together, once they figured out that COVID thing, everybody was expecting us to get to the World Series. We were expecting to get to the World Series,” said Kiké Hernández, who tied Game 7 with a pinch-hit home run in the sixth inning.
About 11,000 fans will be allowed at Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers with a retractable roof, for each game.
Corey Seager and AJ Pollock boost LA’s offense and Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw head the pitching staff. The Dodgers won their 24th pennant by getting past Milwaukee, San Diego and Atlanta, but have not won a title since 1988, falling short a seven-game Series loss to Houston in 2017 and a five-game defeat to Boston the following year.
The Dodgers have won half their pennants since leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
Tampa Bay is in the Series for just the second time and is among just six current franchises that have never won, joined by Colorado, Milwaukee, Texas, San Diego and Seattle. The Rays lost to Philadelphia in five games in 2008.
While the Dodgers topped the major leagues with a $95.6 million prorated payroll as of Aug. 1, the Rays were 28th at $29.3 million, according to figures compiled by Major League Baseball. Only Baltimore ($23.8 million) and Pittsburgh ($23.6 million were lower).
Tampa Bay’s offense is much less known to most fans. The Rays’ top hitter during the season was Brandon Lowe with 14 homers and 37 RBIs, but he slumped to .115 (6 for 52) with two RBIs in the playoffs. Arozarena has been the breakout star of the postseason, hitting .382 with seven homers and 10 RBIs.
Pitching has been key, with Tyler Glasgow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton leading the Rays past Toronto, the New York Yankees and Houston. Tampa Bay also is known for taking an innovative approach to the game, employing a versatile staff and occasionally using a four-man outfield.