Bringing a title to L.A. has special meaning for Dodgers’ Julio Urias

It didn’t fully hit Julio Urias, the man on the mound when the Los Angeles Dodgers ended their 32-year title drought earlier this week, that he had just won the World Series with his strikeout of Willy Adames of the Tampa Bay Rays. One thing that will stay with the Mexican left-hander, however, is the moment during the celebration in which he could finally call Clayton Kershaw a champion.

“The truth is I’m very happy for him, for his family,” Urias told ESPN Mexico. “One of the moments I’ll remember most was the hug he and I shared, or rather the one he gave me. He’s our example to look up to as a teammate, yet he came over to me to embrace me like that, share the words that he did.”

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Urias, sporting a No. 8 Kobe Bryant jersey in honor of the late Los Angeles Lakers legend who supported the Dodgers during their Series run two years ago, discussed Kershaw, comparisons to Fernando Valenzuela and the bullying he endured as a child because of his eye condition with ESPN Mexico on Wednesday via video call. Kershaw, whom Urias referred to as a “horse,” won his first World Series after years of previous struggles in the postseason. When Urias recorded the final strikeout, Kershaw emerged from the bullpen with arms lifted, beaming all the way to the celebration.

“If there’s one person that the whole team can be proud of and happy for after winning a championship, it’s him [Kershaw],” Urias said. “He has it all, has won it all, and the only thing he was missing was a title.”

Urias went 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched across the extended 2020 postseason While he also recorded the save in Game 6 in the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory, pitching the final 2 ⅓ innings, it was fellow Mexican pitcher Victor Gonzalez who recorded the win — becoming the fourth pitcher from the country to accomplish the feat in a World Series. As he did with Kershaw, Urias shared a special moment with Gonzalez in the postgame celebration.

“That was one of the most wonderful hugs, being able to tell him, ‘We did it!’,” Urias said. “For those who don’t know, he lost his dad a few years ago, and it was difficult for him. I remember telling him this is for him, so obviously those tears were bigger. You get goosebumps just thinking about that moment.”

Mexico’s representation on the Dodgers’ pitching staff didn’t go unnoticed by fans down south who were quick to compare 24-year-old starter Urias to icon and 1981 champion Valenzuela. For his part, Urias was quick to point that Valenzuela is one of a kind.

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“It feels good, because being compared to someone else is awesome. But like I say, there is only one Fernando, there has only been one Fernando, and he’s the one who filled the stadiums in Los Angeles and the ones on the road,” Urias said. “That was an incredible thing that’s not going to happen again.”

As a child, Urias had surgery to remove a benign mass behind his left eye, causing his eyelid to droop. The ensuing weeks-long hospital stays in Guadalajara or schoolyard taunts didn’t keep him from the game he loved. But that also didn’t stop the doubters and the bullying during youth tournaments in his native Culiacan, where he said kids could be relentless.

“The first questions were, ‘What happened, what’s wrong with you?’, or ‘You really think you’re going to accomplish your dream with that problem?,’” Urias said.

“But for me, it’s never been an impediment. You have to learn to live with it. Yeah, I went through a lot of that type of thing, but it’s not like I could say I’m not going to leave the house, don’t want to go to school, play baseball, if that’s always been my life. Those who’ve know me since I was a kid know that I was all about bat, ball and glove, so what else is there to do but keep playing? That was my life, and look at us, here we are as champions.”

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