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World Series 2020 — Dodgers fans have taken over ‘neutral’ site with L.A. one win from a title

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Tampa Bay Rays were the home team these last three nights. If not for their white pants, you might not have known it. Over the last three weeks, as they situated themselves inside a quasi-bubble in Texas’ metroplex, the Los Angeles Dodgers have commandeered Globe Life Field and made it their own, growing weirdly comfortable with a new ballpark that still lacks an identity. Their fans have tagged along, traveling en masse, increasingly more so as the wins stacked up and an elusive championship drew closer.

In Saturday’s Game 4, after yet another highlight-reel play in the second inning, a “MOO-KIE” chant began and grew so loud that Mookie Betts himself couldn’t help but break character and crack a smile. In Sunday’s Game 5, a stadium of 11,437 people booed Dodgers manager Dave Roberts as he walked to take the baseball away from Clayton Kershaw in the sixth inning.

He, uh, didn’t smile.

“I didn’t get a chance to see the boos turn to cheers, but that’s OK,” Roberts, managing a smirk, said after navigating the Dodgers through the 4-2 victory that put them one win away from a championship. “It’s passion. The fans have passion, so that’s good.”

Several prominent members of the Dodgers spent the spring worried that the coronavirus pandemic would prevent an exceedingly talented team from ever playing together. As their dominant season progressed, many of them lamented that their passionate fans couldn’t truly experience this journey with them. Then the Dodgers swept through the first two postseason rounds and Major League Baseball allowed the Texas Rangers’ home ballpark to host customers at about 25% capacity.

Loyalties seemed split throughout the National League Championship Series — but then the Dodgers overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Atlanta Braves, welcomed the small-market Rays and basically took over. On Sunday night, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound in a pivotal swing game, this place was practically theirs.

“It’s a home game,” Harry Bawann, 41, said. “If it wasn’t for all the sound effects trying to help Tampa out, this would be a home game.”

Bawann and his friend, Ricardo Manzanares, acquired tickets thinking they’d be watching the Dodgers with a chance to win it all. Then came Game 4’s bottom of the ninth, a two-out single from Brett Phillips, a bobble from Chris Taylor, a stumble from Randy Arozarena, a muff from Will Smith and one of the most improbable comebacks ever.

Shortly after the Dodgers finally captured their third victory 24 hours later, ticket prices for Game 6 had increased by 48 percent since the start of the week, according to TickPick. The average ticket price stood at $750 about five minutes before midnight on the East coast and would undoubtedly increase from there.

Hector Razo, 40, arrived as part of a group of at least 15 Dodger fans from L.A., each of whom paid $400 to get through the door. Jeff Murillo, a 52-year-old Dodgers fan living in Houston, was joined by his wife and two kids and paid $4,000 for all of them. Nicole Estrada, 39, paid $800 for Game 3, $500 for Game 4 and was prepared to pay a lot more for Game 5.

“This whole year has been really tough on a lot of people and for the city of L.A.,” Estrada said, “and for us to come together, in another state, it’s momentous and it’s historic.”

The concourse level of Globe Life Field has become a walking gallery of Dodger jerseys, from Betts and Kershaw to Don Drysdale and Fernando Valenzuela to Vin Scully and Sandy Koufax. One man also wore a Dodgers-themed wrestling mask. Another sported a fake beard in honor of Justin Turner. And one woman, Alen Aivazian, rocked an Elton John-inspired Dodgers jacket that was covered in Swarovski crystals and cost five figures.

David Siegel, 62, was at the game when Kirk Gibson hit his famous pinch-hit home run for the Dodgers in 1988 but also when Reggie Jackson hit three home runs for the New York Yankees to win Game 6 in 1977. This year, of all years, he hopes to watch the Dodgers clinch a World Series title in person for the first time.

“That,” he said, “would mean everything.”

It might mean even more to Kershaw, who has spent a dozen years working diligently in pursuit of that goal and might finally achieve it in his hometown. Through two starts against the Rays, Kershaw boasts a 2.31 ERA and two wins, putting him squarely in the conversation for World Series MVP honors. For Game 5, when he allowed only two runs in 5 ⅔ innings and worked out of a two-on, none-out jam, he was able to accommodate an additional 10 people or so with nosebleed seats.

“This year’s been just special — weird, special, different — in a lot of ways,” Kershaw said. “I don’t wanna say it’s working out the way I want it to because being at Dodger Stadium would be awesome, too, but to get to have family and friends, to get to have as packed a house as it can be, and make it seem like it’s all Dodger fans, is very special.”

Chris Gutierrez is a 26-year-old nursing student who said he paid more than $1,000 to sit a section up on the third-base side. The three people with him are all nurses who have been working the frontlines of a COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 230,000 American lives, an unavoidable reality that adds a layer of discomfort to all this.

They all had initial reservations about gathering like this, but they also didn’t want to miss an opportunity to watch these Dodgers. Since then, they’ve found comfort in a Globe Life Field staff that has been exceedingly diligent about cleaning surfaces, separating large groups and forcing patrons to wear their masks.

It has helped them enjoy what’s in front of them.

“This is a piece of normality,” Gutierrez said, “and it means the world.”



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Minnesota Twins non-tender Eddie Rosario

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins declined Wednesday to offer a 2021 contract to Eddie Rosario, their regular left fielder for the past six seasons.

The Twins also decided to non-tender reliever Matt Wisler prior to MLB’s deadline. They reached one-year deals with five of their arbitration-eligible players: Jose Berrios ($500,000 signing bonus and $5.6 million salary), center fielder Byron Buxton ($5,125,000), reliever Tyler Duffey ($2.2 million), catcher Mitch Garver ($1,875,000) and reliever Caleb Thielbar ($650,000).

Rosario cleared waivers this week, another sign of the economic uncertainty around the industry.

“We very much appreciate everything Eddie has done up to this point. He’s been a big part of this team over the last number of years. So those are always difficult decisions. But he was a pro about it,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said.

Though Rosario and Wisler were the only players on the 40-man roster not offered new contracts, Falvey said the team remains open to negotiating with them as free agents.

The 29-year-old Rosario made $7.75 million last season, batting .257 with 13 homers and 42 RBI with a .792 OPS in 57 games. He hit a career-high 32 homers with 109 RBI in 2019 and was voted the team’s most valuable player in 2018, but the club’s top prospects are in the outfield. Alex Kirilloff, a 2016 first-round draft pick, is likely ready for an everyday role after landing on the postseason roster. Brent Rooker and Trevor Larnach are close behind.

Rosario, who was eligible for his third and final year of arbitration that likely would have driven his salary over $10 million, became a free agent one season early. With the pandemic putting the squeeze on revenues and payrolls, Rosario, whose career on-base percentage is just .310, was a logical candidate to non-tender.

Wisler was a waiver claim success story for the Twins, posting a 1.07 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings after splitting the 2019 season with San Diego and Seattle. He made $725,000 in 2020.

The moves left only one player in the salary arbitration eligibility pool, closer Taylor Rogers, with two more months to reach an agreement before the Twins would be forced to go to a hearing. Rogers took a step back this season, compiling a 4.05 ERA in 21 appearances with nine saves and two blown chances. He made $4.45 million in 2020, after notching 30 saves with 90 strikeouts over 69 innings in 2019.

Berrios, a two-time All-Star, had a 4.00 ERA in 12 starts during the 60-game season to help the Twins win their second straight AL Central title. He made $4,025,000 in 2020.

Buxton battled injuries again but posted a career-best .844 OPS, with 13 homers in 39 games while providing elite defense in center field. He made $3,075,000 in 2020.

Duffey, who turns 30 on Dec. 27, had a career-best 1.88 ERA in 24 innings this year with 13 hits allowed and 31 strikeouts. Over the last two years, the right-hander has been a key late-game cog in Minnesota’s bullpen, logging a 2.31 ERA and 113 strikeouts over 81 2/3 innings with 57 hits allowed. He made $1.2 million in 2020.

Garver and Thielbar entered their first year of arbitration eligibility. After a breakout 2019 season with 31 homers in 93 games, Garver slumped in 2020 and spent much of the summer on the injured list.

In addition to Rosario and Wisler, the Twins have a long list of notable free agents: designated hitter Nelson Cruz, starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill, multi-positional player Marwin Gonzalez, relievers Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard, and backup catcher Alex Avila. Relief pitcher Trevor May signed with the New York Mets.

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Tampa Bay Rays tender Tyler Glasnow, 6 other arbitration-eligible players

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The AL champion Tampa Bay Rays offered 2021 contracts to all seven of their arbitration-eligible players Wednesday, including starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow.

The others were left-handers Ryan Yarbrough and Jose Alvarado, right-hander Yonny Chirinos, first baseman Ji-Man Choi, infielder Joey Wendle and outfielder Manuel Margot.

Right-hander Edgar García, who was not yet eligible for arbitration, was non-tendered and becomes a free agent.

Glasnow went 5-1 in 11 regular-season starts in 2020. The 6-foot-8 right-hander was 2-3 during the postseason, including a pair of losses in two World Series outings against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Chicago Cubs make Kyle Schwarber a free agent, tender contract to Kris Bryant and others

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs non-tendered 2016 World Series hero Kyle Schwarber on Wednesday, making him a free agent after six seasons with the team, while tendering a contract to 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant as well as shortstop Javier Baez and catcher Willson Contreras.

“He wasn’t surprised,” new Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said of Schwarber in a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday night. “He was disappointed. Any competitor would be.”

Schwarber, 27, was in his final year of arbitration, but the team let him go rather than pay him around $8 million-$9 million next season. The Cubs have not ruled out bringing him back on a lesser deal, though.

“We’ll definitely keep the door open,” Hoyer said. “We’ll continue to talk about ways to bring him back. … We had a good conversation. He’s a Cubs legend. No question about that.”

Schwarber hit .230 with 121 home runs in 551 regular-season games, but he’ll be remembered for his playoff performances, during which he compiled a .981 OPS in 24 games.

He hit .412 in five games as the Cubs’ designated hitter in the 2016 World Series, which Chicago won in seven games over the Cleveland Indians. After missing all but two games of the 2016 regular season — and the ensuing playoff rounds — because of a knee injury, Schwarber came back to star in the World Series.

Manager Joe Maddon made him the Cubs’ leadoff hitter the following year, after Dexter Fowler left via free agency. Schwarber flopped in that role, hitting .190 with a .312 on-base percentage before spending time in the minors.

He rebounded in 2018 and 2019, hitting 64 home runs, but his shortened 2020 season didn’t go well. Schwarber hit just .188 with 11 home runs in 59 games.

The Cubs also said goodbye to another 2016 mainstay, Albert Almora Jr., who was demoted to the alternate site in 2020. And though there is speculation Bryant could be moved before next season, he was tendered a contract for 2021 that should pay him close to $20 million.

In addition to Baez and Contreras, the Cubs also tendered contracts to catcher Victor Caratini and outfielder Ian Happ. Those players, along with Bryant, will either negotiate a one-year or longer-term deals, or go to an arbitration hearing in February to determine their salary.

The Cubs did agree to terms for 2021 with pitchers Colin Rea ($702,500), Dan Winkler ($900,000) and Kyle Ryan, who’s on a split contract that will pay him $800,000 if he’s on the major league team.

Without fans in attendance at Wrigley Field, the Cubs said they lost between $125 million-$140 million in 2020. Front-office and baseball operations staff were let go in a series of cost-cutting moves, and a reduction in payroll was on the agenda for the team this offseason — along with an offensive makeover. The core group of players who won the World Series in 2016 had collectively stalled at the plate.

Schwarber’s release is the first major sign of both the payroll and personnel turnover. And it is the first major decision under new team president Jed Hoyer’s watch, after Theo Epstein stepped down with a year left on his deal.

Schwarber was the Cubs’ first-round pick, fourth overall, in the 2014 draft after attending Indiana University.

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