Nine innings away from no longer having to hear about 1988.
The Dodgers, a franchise tortured in the month of October more than any other the last decade, sat on pins and needles throughout Monday’s scheduled off day during the 116th World Series in neutral-site Arlington, Texas.
Being just one victory away from what would be a franchise-cleansing title will do that to a team.
"The off day is going to be hard for us," Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw said.
The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner spoke late Sunday night after helping pitch the Dodgers to a 4-2 victory over the Rays in Game 5 of the Series, which gave Los Angeles a 3-2 lead heading into Tuesday night’s Game 6 and went a ways toward cleansing Kershaw’s own October legacy.
The Dodgers, who last won the crown in 1988 and who have had a slew of high-profile setbacks, including losses in the 2017 and ’18 World Series, will send rookie righthander Tony Gonsolin to the mound against Rays lefthander Blake Snell.
"We are not going to try and get ahead of ourselves too much," said Max Muncy, whose monstrous World Series continued in the fifth inning of Game 5 when he homered off Tyler Glasnow, one of the Rays’ stud starters who, in general, haven’t performed as advertised in the Series. "[Tuesday night] might be a different story with the off day. For right now, it kind of like, ‘Let’s take care of business.’ The job is not finished."
Though the Dodgers have shown themselves overall to be the more complete team, the job is not done and, given the disappointments that have become routine this time of year for them, best not to make any assumptions.
"We expect to win," manager Dave Roberts, oft-criticized this time of year for decisions — mostly involving pitching changes — said after his call to remove Kershaw with two outs and none on the sixth Sunday night worked to perfection.
Asked Monday about the Dodgers being 27 outs from at long last expunging the ghosts of past October frustrations, Roberts wasn’t ready to go there.
"When it does enter [my thoughts], I quickly dismiss it," said Roberts, who replaced Don Mattingly in November 2015. "It’s human nature, but I don’t let my mind go there. Kind of just taking today as its own day. As the day goes on, I’ll start thinking about Game 6, and that’s all I’m thinking about. Realistically, obviously it would mean a lot. I hope we’re having this conversation tomorrow night."
The Rays, meanwhile, are not in an unfamiliar spot. They, after all, survived elimination games against the Yankees in the Division Series — winning a deciding Game 5 — and against the Astros in the ALCS — winning a deciding Game 7.
"Always confident in this bunch," said Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, whose club was unable to carry the momentum gained from Saturday night’s walk-off victory in Game 4, which became an instant classic. "Always have [had] good bounce-back wins all year. They were better [Sunday], put the pressure on us early and [we] couldn't get a whole lot going. But if there's any team who can respond with their backs against the wall — being in a situation where it's win or go home — our group is the group to come through when we need it the most."
Added rightfielder Austin Meadows Monday: "We all know what the stakes are. We know what we have to do."
The Rays have been let down by their starters, a group headlined by Glasnow, Snell and Charlie Morton. Through the first five games of the Series, Tampa Bay’s much-hyped rotation has accumulated a 7.91 ERA compared to the 2.67 ERA put up by Dodgers starters.
"It is a problem, there’s no denying it’s a problem," said Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose rotation allowed at least one first-inning run in Games 3-5. "We need to correct that, and we don't have much time to correct it, so it needs to be fixed for Game 6, for sure. Home, away, it doesn't matter. Prevent runs. I don't care how we do it, we’ve got to do a better job at it."