“Three inches. The difference in a World Series.” — Mike Roberts, Longtime coach, organizational baserunning coach and author of two books on baserunning.
“It was a World Series-winning play.” — Dave Roberts, manager of the 2020 world champion Los Angeles Dodgers (and owner of 243 regular-season steals in his 10-year career, plus one in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS that landed him in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.).
Re-run that play — Mookie Betts on third base, Corey Seager at bat, one out, from the sixth inning of Game 6 of the 2020 World Series — on YouTube. Two batters earlier, the Dodgers had been losing 1-0 to Blake Snell and the Rays. Then Austin Barnes hit a single, reliever Nick Anderson replaced Snell, and Betts doubled to move Barnes to third, where he would score on a wild pitch — tying the game and setting the stage for Betts to deliver that “World Series-winning play.”
It happened fast: Betts took off for home as Seager hit an easy hopper to drawn-in Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who backhanded it and made the short throw to catcher Mike Zunino. Zunino caught the throw and moved to slap the tag on the sliding Betts coming down the line from third.
But Betts beat the throw, and the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead that would hold up thanks to three shutout relief innings from Brusdar Graterol and Julio Urías, plus an add-on home run by Betts that would leave the final score 3-1 and give the Dodgers their first championship since the Reagan administration. For many, the story of the game was Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash’s decision to remove Snell with the 1-0 lead after Barnes’ one-out single in that pivotal bottom of the sixth. But two years later, in an era when baserunning has become a lost art and the game’s basepaths often look as clogged and stagnant as the will-I-ever-get-off-it L.A. Freeway, it is Betts’ dash home that resonates as a model and a teaching moment. It is a reference point as Mike Roberts works with Pirates minor leaguers in Bradenton, Florida in the August heat, and a reminder to major leaguers around the game of what great baserunning can really do.
“Watch that Betts play and what you see is the result of great concentration and anticipation.” — Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, one of the best baserunners of his era.
“It was the product of visualization.” — George Lombard, baserunning coach on the 2020 Dodgers, bench coach of the 2021-22 Tigers.
Lombard credits his experience with Mike Roberts for his understanding of many of the nuances of baserunning. Mike Roberts credits his own learning to his time at the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy in the 1970s, where he once roomed with Ron Washington. Dave Roberts often quotes Maury Wills from Roberts’ time in the Dodgers organization.