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The year was 1961, and the New York Yankees were in the World Series again. It was the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, breaking Babe Ruth’s record that had lasted beyond the Great Depression, the Second World War and the integration of the major leagues.
Maris and Mickey Mantle were the leading men on the Yankees. Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford were headliners too. Who remembers Hector Lopez?
The year is 2020, and the Dodgers are in the World Series again. The Dodgers are the team of Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, of Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, of Corey Seager and Justin Turner. Who is going to remember Austin Barnes?
If the Dodgers win, every good Dodgers fan should. Barnes did something Friday that only Lopez had done over the first 115 years of the World Series.
In 1961, Lopez hit a home run and had a squeeze bunt in the same game. The Yankees won the series.
On Friday, Barnes hit a home run and had a squeeze bunt.
The Dodgers are halfway to their first World Series championship since 1988.
The Dodgers are in the World Series for the third time in four years. This is the first time they have taken a two-games-to-one lead in the World Series since 1988.
They hear you, Los Angeles. They feel your pain.
“Everybody’s aware of the drought in L.A.,” Barnes said. “The fans are itching for a championship.”
Barnes gets it. He was born in Fullerton, raised in Riverside. He is 30, and the Dodgers have not won a championship in his lifetime.
Buehler was the star of stars Friday, striking out 10 Tampa Bay batters over six innings of the Dodgers’ 6-2 victory. But Barnes earned a more than honorable mention, driving in runs in successive plate appearances: a squeeze bunt in the fourth inning, a solo home run the sixth.
That is a pretty fair output for a backup catcher. Barnes has backed up a quintet of catchers during his tenure in Los Angeles: A.J. Ellis, Carlos Ruiz, Yasmani Grandal, Russell Martin and now Will Smith.
“Between [Smith] and Barnes, we probably have the best catching combination in the league, in our opinion,” Kershaw said. “It shows.”
Barnes has established himself as valuable if for no other reason than the pitchers he shepherds. In the regular season, he has become Kershaw’s personal catcher. In the postseason, he has become Buehler’s personal catcher.
That is pretty good job security. His ability to bunt is helpful as well and, in a year with the designated hitter, pretty rare. The Dodgers now have four sacrifice bunts this season, three by Barnes.
“If they ask you to do something,” he said, “you need to do it.”
In Friday’s game, the Tampa Bay coaches were yelling from the dugout, warning their players of a possible squeeze, but Barnes put down such a good one that the Rays were helpless in defending it.
Still, when he tells the next generations of his family about his place in the World Series record book, he said any bragging would not be about the bunt.
“Probably the homer,” he said. “It’s a cool little stat, but it’s not easy to barrel the ball up against all these really good pitchers.”
The Dodgers did not include Barnes on their playoff roster last year, preferring Martin and Smith. But, in the three recent World Series trips, Barnes has been their guy.
In the 15 World Series games the Dodgers have played over the last four years, Barnes has started 13. Grandal struggled to hit the ball in 2017 and struggled to catch the ball in 2018, losing his spot to Barnes each October.
However, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the team regarded Barnes more highly than just as the only other guy left to catch. Barnes calls a good game, excels on defense and does not give away an at-bat.
“It just shows how much we trust him in big games,” Roberts said Friday. “He’s done it for us time and time again, and he had a fantastic night.”
In the 2018 World Series, Barnes went hitless. In 2020, he already has a home run, and a place in the World Series record book. There is a lot of hospitality in this neutral site World Series, so much so that the home state already has named a town after Barnes.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.