Dodgers two wins from World Series and the man responsible isn't on the field
The Dodgers have had plenty of on-field heroes, but the architect of this team deserves credit
LOS ANGELES -- We've had three games so far in this thrilling National League Championship Series, and we have three heroes to credit for each victory.
And Tuesday night the Dodgers claimed a 2-1 series lead and a groundswell of momentum behind the guy who made it all possible: Andrew Friedman.
Sometimes it's not the men you see who shift the course of a game, a series or even baseball history.
Yes, every game has its slew of those responsible for the wins and losses. This is a team sport, after all, and Montero needed his teammates to get on base and Jon Lester to hold off the Dodgers for six strong innings in Game 1. Next day, Kershaw needed Adrian Gonzalez to deliver the only RBI of the game and Kenley Jansen to come through on a six-out save. And Friedman, the president of baseball operations for the Dodgers, got help Tuesday night from Rich Hill's gem, Yasmani Grandal's two-run blast and Corey Seager's big night at the plate.
But it was the front-office guy whose impact on the game was the most important.
He, after all, was largely the reason those guys were in the position to do what they did.
Friedman, like his Cubs counterpart Theo Epstein, is a sabermetrics guy with an intellectual feel for the game and a baby-faced look to go with it. He's private, cerebral and, until this postseason run, he has been widely derided by everyday Dodger fans here in Los Angeles who thought he and his band of supposedly smarter-than-you front-office friends were delivering the Dodgers straight to baseball purgatory.
From his construction of the bullpen (which turned into one of the best in baseball), to trading away hometown favorite Matt Kemp (for Grandal) last season, to the idea that the offense was anemic because of Friedman and Co.'s decisions (turns out you can win with 22-year-old Corey Seager as your lineup's best hitter), to trading away fan favorites Dee Gordon and, more recently, AJ Ellis (head scratchers, but here we are with LA leading the NLCS), to having an organization that made Don Mattingly walk (and then be replaced by, in Dave Roberts, the guy who should be manger of the year) -- well, Dodgers fans were irate.
And so: Friedman was the hero of the night Tuesday at Dodger Stadium and, if they beat the Cubs in this series, of a season that is nothing short of remarkable.
Grandal's two-run homer in the fourth inning off Jake Arrieta gave the Dodgers a 3-0 lead on the way to a 6-0 victory. Before that, Seager drove in Andrew Toles, who most had once given up on and started the season in Single-A, to put the Dodgers on the board. Hill shut down the struggling Cubs hitters, surrendering just two hits and no runs over six marvelous innings.
All of this is a credit to Friedman.
Hill in particular. He was part of a late-season trade in which Friedman and his front office dealt three very promising prospects to the Oakland A's (and prospect-psychic Billy Beane), a deal that also brought in Josh Reddick. A lot of people in LA -- including me, loudly, on the radio here -- thought the trade was, well, stupid.
Nope. More like pretty damn smart.
And then there's Roberts. He's matched baseball genius Joe Maddon move for move, decision for decision, all series long, and he now sits on a 2-1 series lead. LA was not a happy place when Mattingly walked and became the Marlins' skipper, and it's no secret that Mattingly didn't exactly love the Friedman Way. Two good but different baseball guys, one very bad fit. When Roberts was hired, a lot of people rolled their eyes and suspected he was there to be the Friedman front-office puppet.
Roberts has handled the bullpen masterfully, kept a hold of his clubhouse -- and imbued it with swagger and certainty -- through near-historic numbers of injuries and more. There was the demotion of mercurial former star and full-time distraction Yasiel Puig. There was the injury and absence earlier this season of Kershaw.
Roberts has created his own culture comfortably within Friedman's framework, one so different from Mattingly's that it can be hard to recognize this team despite all the familiar faces.
This is Friedman's second full year running baseball operations, and already so much has changed. Yes, he inherited many of the young guys who are stepping up like Seager and Joc Pederson. And yes, he also signed DL-bound unreliables like Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir. But he paid big money for Kenta Maeda, who was excellent most of the season, cobbled together this sterling bullpen from pitchers who gave Dodgers fans heartburn, brought in impact veterans like Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick, has cultivated a culture very much all his own and has done it while working to build a youth movement and cut down a huge payroll that used to be filled with some very, very bad contracts.
Andrew Friedman works in the shadows, as baseball ops men do. You probably didn't see him for even a moment Tuesday. But he was there, in every part, of the Dodgers crucial win.
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