For the fourth time in 15 seasons, the Red Sox are world champions. Behind a stellar outing from David Price and a pair of home runs from Steve Pearce, who took home series MVP honors, Boston defeated the Dodgers, 5–1, in Game 5 to finish the World Series and win its first title since 2013. Here are three thoughts from the last game of the year.
You heard about it all summer, as the Red Sox pulled away from the Yankees in the AL East and captured their third straight division title. The chatter about it grew deafening after his first start of the postseason, a thumping at the hands of those Yankees in the Division Series. The questions continued after ALCS Game 2, a so-so effort against Houston that didn’t inspire much confidence going forward. Could David Price put his playoff demons behind him?
Consider Game 5 the definitive answer. By limiting the Dodgers to just a run in seven innings to win the World Series, Price has forever shed the narrative surrounding him: a choker in the most crucial month, a bum when it counts, an overpriced headcase who couldn’t be trusted. Instead, he came up huge when Boston needed him the most, on the mound to clinch both the ALCS and then the Fall Classic.
To be fair, the story around Price began to change after that last ALCS start, when he blanked the Astros over six innings—and on short rest no less. Any fears for Boston over that outing being a fluke probably disappeared after an equally strong turn in Game 2 against Los Angeles, when he allowed a pair of runs over six frames. In between was a gutsy relief appearance in the marathon Game 3, but Price’s next turn wasn’t supposed to be until Game 6, if it happened, back at Fenway Park. The honor of the championship game would go to Chris Sale.
Only Alex Cora, he of the magic touch, flipped that script at the end of his post-Game 4 press conference, announcing that Price—again on short rest—would start instead of Sale. The logic was solid enough: more rest for Sale, the belief that having to pinch-hit in the NL park would lead to a shorter outing anyway, better results for Price of late. But there was also something more ineffable about the call. As Cora put it to reporters, “We feel like David is good tomorrow.”
Good is an understatement. Price was phenomenal, with only one mistake all night—amusingly enough, on his very first pitch in the bottom of the first, which David Freese rocketed into right for a solo homer. But already holding a two-run lead thanks to Pearce, that shot that could have sunk Price’s start from the beginning made little dent. Over the next six frames, he allowed only a walk to Justin Turner, a bloop single to Yasiel Puig and a J.D. Martinez-aided triple to Freese. That last hit was Los Angeles’ biggest threat, coming with one out in the third and down a run. But Turner grounded out to shortstop on the first pitch, failing to score Freese, and Kiké Hernandez flew out to Martinez to end the inning.
From there, Price cruised, retiring the next 12 in a row (and even getting to hit with runners on in the seventh, a true flex on Cora’s part) before Chris Taylor opened the eighth with a walk and knocked him out of the game, up 5–1.
The bullpen didn’t let that brilliance go to waste. The suddenly dominant Joe Kelly stranded Taylor and struck out the side in a scoreless inning of work. And Sale finished it—the would-be starter instead closing it out in a perfect ninth. Just like that, Price wasn’t just a winner—he was a champion.
Close, But No Kershaw
Price wasn’t alone in trying to slay the postseason narrative dragon. Opposite him was Clayton Kershaw, perhaps the most unfairly maligned pitcher of his generation in terms of October results and how they reflected on him. A lackluster Game 1 start—in which he was hit hard and didn’t make it through the fifth—didn’t help a perception that’s fluctuated like Bitcoin value. Here, then, in an elimination game, was Kershaw’s chance to shut his haters up for good (or at least, yet again, given how good a number of his playoff appearances havealreadybeen).
Instead, things quickly went wrong. With one out in the first, Andrew Benintendi ripped a single up the middle. The next batter, Pearce, took a first-pitch fastball and launched it out to left—a carbon copy of his homer off Kenley Jansen in Game 4 that tied things up and staggered the Dodgers. Just like that, Boston had a 2–0 lead and an advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.
Kershaw did settle down from there, retiring the next nine in a row and working through five innings in just 59 pitches. But facing the top of the order a third time in the sixth, he blinked, leaving a slider over the plate to the slumping Mookie Betts. Hitless in his last 13 at-bats, Betts didn’t miss, popping his first career postseason homer to left to make it 3–1. An inning later, Martinez similarly snapped out of a skid, blasting a solo homer to center to push the lead to three. That seventh frame proved Kershaw’s last.
It also may have been the last inning of his Dodgers career. The ace lefty has an opt-out upcoming in his contract, and on a thin free-agent market for pitchers, he’s almost certain to exercise it. Kershaw is slowly but surely exiting his prime, plagued by persistent back injuries and declining fastball velocity, but he’d have suitors aplenty should he make his services available to the highest bidder. The Dodgers and their fans have to hope that he chooses to stay. If nothing else, going out like that—a loser in the postseason once more—is no way for his time in Los Angeles to end.
For Boston, the future is bright. Betts, Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley Jr. form an impressive young core. Martinez will be back in the middle of the order. Sale and Price are a dynamic duo atop the rotation. The major question in free agency will be whether or not Dave Dombrowski brings back All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, a free agent-to-be who faltered in the playoffs but is still an elite reliever—albeit one who turns 31 in May.
Regardless, the Red Sox are here to stay as one of the AL’s elite squads. Their competition will be fierce: The Yankees are just as studded with stars and boast a better farm system, as do the Astros. The Indians should be better, too, and the Athletics are on the upswing. But if nothing else, Boston can revel in this before turning its attention forward: 108 regular-season wins, a World Series championship, and the knowledge that this 2018 edition is the best in a long and storied franchise history—if not one of the best in MLB history.
As for the Dodgers, they may lose Kershaw as well as Manny Machado, the midseason rental who was solid during the regular season but a mess in the postseason, both unproductive and the center of negative attention. (Also set to hit free agency: lefty Hyun-jin Ryu, who had a fantastic though injury-interrupted season, and catcher Yasmani Grandal, whose stock was ruined quicker than Enron’s by his erratic play behind the dish this month.)
Harder for Los Angeles to deal with than those potential defections, though, may be the psychic toll of back-to-back World Series losses. The title drought is now 31 years, and though the Dodgers remain an excellent team with a terrific farm system and lots of good young talent, windows can’t stay open forever. Both seasons, they had the misfortune of running into transcendent opponents in the final stage. But the luck that’s helped them win six straight NL West crowns and two pennants may also run out.