It came as constant as the changing of the seasons, a frustration that accompanied the Dodgers’ playoff failures each fall.
But this year, things are finally different. For the first time, Turner has gone through October in a slump — and the Dodgers are two wins from a title nonetheless.
“This postseason in particular hasn’t been that great for me personally,” Turner said Friday, hoping he’d finally turned a corner after hitting a home run and a double in the team’s 6-2 win in Game 3 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays. “But I’ve been grinding away and working with our hitting guys and finally felt a little bit better tonight.”
Indeed, this has been Turner’s least-productive postseason by the numbers. In the final year of his contract, the 35-year-old entered Friday with a .216 batting average in the playoffs, a career-low among postseasons in which he’s played more than two games.
Yet, the red-headed veteran has still picked key spots to shine. Game 3 became the latest example.
Turner hit his 11th career playoff home run in the first inning, giving the Dodgers a quick lead and tying Duke Snider’s franchise postseason home run record. He made more history in the third, helping to spark a two-run, two-out rally with his 18th career playoff double, tying Chipper Jones for the most ever in the playoffs by any MLB third baseman.
When asked about those marks after the game, Turner, as usual, deflected attention back toward the team.
“It means I’ve had the opportunity to play on a lot of really good baseball teams,” he said. “We’ve gone deep into October.”
The deeper those past teams went, however, the more they relied on Turner to keep them afloat.
In the 2017 postseason, Turner homered four times, drove in 14 runs and, despite cooling off in the World Series against the Astros, still had three extra-base hits in the seven-game battle. But the Dodgers’ season ended with him standing on deck.
In 2018, he racked up 20 hits in 16 playoffs games and hit .333 in the World Series with two doubles. The Dodgers lost that Fall Classic to the Red Sox four games to one.
And last October, the Dodgers didn’t even get out of the first round despite Turner’s two home runs, five RBIs and a 1.000 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in a five-game NLDS.
Turner could tell this team was different though, from the intense intrasquad scrimmages to the way the players bought into a stricter set of health and safety protocols Turner spearheaded early in the regular season.
“I wasn’t sure if we were even going to get to start a season, let alone make it to the postseason,” he said. “I’m proud of the players and the staff and all the work that has gone into protocols and being responsible and making good decisions and making the right choices to ensure that we were able to have the season.”
And after battling an offensive lull for most of these playoffs, he said Friday he finally feels “like I landed on something that should be sustainable.”
But even without big offensive contributions, Turner has carried his weight in other ways. His double play in Game 7 of the NLCS helped the Dodgers advance to this World Series. And in the third inning Friday, he flashed defensively again, starting a double play that ended one of the Rays’ few threats during Walker Buehler’s six-inning, one-run gem.
“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “JT is a big player for us. He’s a great guy in the clubhouse. We rely on him all the time.”
Just in a different way than they used to. Turner hasn’t had to pick up so much slack this year, with newly arrived Mookie Betts and finally healthy Corey Seager and ever-improving Cody Bellinger and an impressive cast of supporting characters leading the way.
Friday’s career records were a reminder of Turner’s playoff greatness in the past. He’s hoping they aren’t the last hallmarks he’ll be celebrating at series end.
“It’s something that’s pretty cool that I can talk about when I’m done playing,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean a whole lot until we finish this thing off and we win two more games.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.