The Los Angeles Dodgers, one win away from ending a 32-year World Series title drought, are trying to keep their focus on the nuts and bolts of Tuesday's game six against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"It's human nature," manager Dave Roberts said Monday, acknowledging that with the Dodgers up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series he can't help contemplating what it would mean to hoist the Major League Baseball trophy after coming up short in 2017 and 2018.
"But I just really don't let my mind go there," he said, adding that after catching his breath on the rest day Monday "I'll starting thinking about game six and that's all I'm thinking about."
Roberts and the Dodgers have the luxury now of having two chances to seal the triumph, while game six is do-or-die for the Rays.
But Tampa Bay, built with the third-lowest payroll in the major leagues according to Spotrac, have a resilient bunch, beating the New York Yankees 2-1 in a decisive game five to reach the American League Championship Series, where they won a deciding game seven against the Houston Astros.
"We expect to win this thing," Rays pitcher Ryan Thompson said Monday. "We expect to win the next two games."
The Rays will send ace pitcher Blake Snell to the mound on Tuesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, the first neutral venue for a World Series in baseball history.
Some 11,500 fans -- little more than a quarter of the ballpark's capacity -- have been admitted to games this World Series, which caps a season upended, and shortened, by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Rays will be looking for a strong start from Snell, and also for some early runs that would allow a deep Rays bullpen to take over and hopefully hold the Dodgers in check the rest of the way.
"We're going to get aggressive tomorrow," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "If we can somehow get a lead and limit them, we've got some of the big guys back in the bullpen who are ready to go.
"That's our strategy, to get a lead and then get aggressive to where we feel we can limit whatever offense is out there," Cash said, although he admitted the Rays hadn't been able to put that into practice consistently.
"They're up one-, two- or three-nothing by the second or third inning every night it feels like," Cash said.
Dodgers hitters have found multiple ways to hurt the Rays.
Justin Turner has two first-inning home runs in the series. Mookie Betts led off game five with a searing double. Corey Seager is batting .471 and Max Muncy leads the Dodgers in runs-batted-in.
The Dodgers have hit multiple homers in eight straight post-season games.
Catcher Austin Barnes had both a homer and a safety squeeze bunt to score a run in the Dodgers' game-three victory.
The Rays sensational rookie Randy Arozarena has set the single post-season record for home runs during the Series and the record for most hits in a post-season.
- Gonsolin gets start -
Brandon Lowe has broken out of a slump with multiple homers in the Series, but the Rays offense has largely underperformed and Cash said he would again consider lineup changes in a bid to spark more offense.
Rookie pitcher Tony Gonsolin will start game six on Tuesday, leaving ace Walker Buehler in reserve for a potential game seven.
Gonsolin was the Dodgers' "opening" pitcher in a game-two defeat, giving up a home run to Lowe in 1 1/3 innings, but Roberts says he hopes Gonsolin will go deeper into the game on Tuesday.
"I hope to get five or six innings, that would be great," Roberts said. I want him to go as long as he possibly can."
And even with the comfort of Buehler in the background, Roberts wants the Dodgers to finish off the Rays on Tuesday -- before they have time to remember the game-seven loss to the Houston Astros in 2017.
"The goal is to win (Tuesday)," Roberts said. "We know that's a very, very good ballclub -- our focus is to win game six and that's it."