“That’s where it really flipped for me,” Roberts said, “where I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this — and I’m going to do this, Lord willing, as long as I can.’”
Last season, his first as the Dodgers’ manager, Roberts was named the National League’s manager of the year. Now he has guided the Dodgers to their first N.L. pennant in 29 years, ending the franchise’s longest stretch without a World Series appearance.
Fittingly, the final out of the N.L. Championship Series in Chicago was a line drive to shortstop Charlie Culberson — a fill-in for Corey Seager, the All-Star who has been sidelined with a back injury. With Culberson and Chris Taylor, who also plays the outfield, Roberts nimbly covered the absence of Seager, who is expected to be active for the World Series. The Dodgers’ roster of multiposition players gives Roberts extraordinary flexibility and matchup advantages.
“He has a lot of weapons, a lot of interchangeable parts, and he’s not afraid to pinch-hit for a guy in the middle of the game,” Black said. “So from the other side, if you try to set up the right pitcher on the right hitter, a lot of times it can’t happen, because he’ll make that move — and he does it with his bullpen, too.”
Joe Maddon, the Cubs’ manager, said the key to beating the Dodgers was to get an early lead and keep them from deploying their many options.
“They’re prepared,” Maddon said, adding later, “Once you get behind and they’re able to fulfill the script, then it’s really difficult, because they do match up well.”
Yet the Cubs actually held a lead in four of the five N.L.C.S. games against Los Angeles, but were outscored by 20 runs over all and batted just .156. The Dodgers’ bullpen fired 17 scoreless innings in the series.
And when Roberts had to go off script, he did, pulling back a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning of Game 3 to let Yu Darvish bat with the bases loaded against the erratic Carl Edwards Jr. The serendipitous result: the first bases-loaded walk by a pitcher in the postseason since Larry Christenson drew one in 1977. On four pitches, no less.
“That was probably 99 percent gut,” Roberts said, smiling, though he based the feeling on logic. The Dodgers already had a two-run lead, he explained, and Darvish was pitching well. He knew it would not have been easy for a pinch-hitter — most likely the struggling Curtis Granderson — to put the bat on the ball, anyway, and recognized that the Cubs had been struggling with control.
“There is a walk in there,” Roberts said, “regardless of who is in the batter’s box.”
Roberts, whose parents are African-American and Japanese, is the first minority manager in Dodgers history and one of just three minority managers currently in the majors, with Rick Renteria of the Chicago White Sox and Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox, who was hired on Sunday. In other ways, though, Roberts, 45, fits the profile of a modern manager: recent playing experience, a college education (U.C.L.A.), a willingness to work closely with an analytically minded front office and an unflappable nature to handle the increasing demands of the news media.
Experience still matters; no manager has won the World Series in his first managing job since Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox did it 12 years ago. But Roberts’s familiarity with Los Angeles, where he also played for parts of three seasons, has perhaps reduced the learning curve that often greets a first-time manager.
“Especially in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles — if any one of those four places becomes your first opportunity, there’s a lot that’s going to come at you awfully quick,” said Jim Tracy, Roberts’s manager with the Dodgers from 2002 to 2004.
“If you’re not prepared for that, or you’re lacking in people skills and dealing with the media, I don’t know if it’s going to go well for you. But he has all of that. You engage yourself with David Roberts for any period of time, and you’ll swear he’s never had a bad day in his life.”
The Dodgers had plenty of bad days late in the season, losing 16 of 17 games from Aug. 26 through Sept. 11. They dropped 12 games in the N.L. West standings, but had built such a big lead that the division title was not in much doubt. Still, the team needed a calm leader.
“Every day we came to the park, we thought that was the day it was going to end, and it took a little bit longer than that — but you couldn’t tell it from Doc at all,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president for baseball operations, referring to Roberts by his nickname. “He was communicating with the media twice a day. It would have been really easy for him at some point along the way to crack, and he didn’t at all. And it wasn’t just his public persona, either. It was also the way he handled things in the clubhouse.”
Roberts also seems to have solved the riddle of outfielder Yasiel Puig, who often confounded the previous manager, Don Mattingly. Asked in August about the Dodgers’ success, Puig — without prompting — credited Roberts for unifying the team.
“He has a lot of charisma,” Puig added, through an interpreter.
Likewise, when asked generally about Roberts during the N.L.C.S., the ace Clayton Kershaw praised Roberts’s handling of Puig.
“Yasiel’s probably one of the main things that you’ve seen,” said Kershaw, who will start Game 1 of the World Series. “I think Yasiel’s really responded to Doc as manager. Doc has really kind of taken him aside and really given him the attention that probably he needed at first to gain that trust.”
Puig, a five-year veteran, bashed a career-high 28 homers this season, never grumbling about often batting eighth. He hit .414 (12 for 29) in the N.L. playoffs while showing off his colorful persona, often kissing his bat before using it and flipping it after making contact.
After years of postseason angst, the Dodgers look carefree. And with four more victories, their manager will be revered on another coast, forever.